Judge Brett Cullum strains his thesaurus in this hefty review.
How Stella got her groove…PHAT!
Mo'Nique (Soul Plane, The Queens of Comedy, and the irreverent hostess of Showtime at the Apollo) is funny, sexy, smart—and a raging comedienne on a crusade against "skinny bitches." It makes a world of sense that her headlining movie debut would be called Phat Girlz, and that it would take on America's sense of "you can never be too thin." I admire Mo'Nique, and I applaud the movie for what it is trying to say. It's a fantasy fable where our overweight heroine learns to love herself for being what she calls (in her own words) "FAT-tabulous." Mo'Nique deserves props, and heavy girls everywhere are long overdue for their moment. Unfortunately for both, this comedy is a mess and it's not what it should be. In the end it's like a bottle of Metabo-Life or Trim Spa that promises much more than it delivers.
Mo'Nique plays Jazmin Biltmore, an aspiring fashion designer who lives with her gym rat cousin Mia (Joyful Drake, Beauty Shop) in a house their grandmother left them. She works at a fancy department store in Century City Mall with her best friend Stacey (Kendra Johnson who is a TV actress and frequent stand-in for Queen Latifah). Jazmin is at an all-time low in the self esteem department when she wins a trip to Palm Springs via a sweepstakes from the many diet products she downs regularly. Once there a convention of Nigerian doctors show up, and one has his eye on our girl. He's rich, caring, and has a body to die for. His name is Dr. Tunde (Jimmy Jean Louis, who began in softcore erotica like Emanuelle in Venice before graduating to bit parts in major films like Monster In-Law), and he's a smooth operator who begins to woo Jazmin. But how can he win her heart when Jazmin has very little love for herself? So in a Mildred Pierce plot twist we have to wait for Jazmin to make herself in to a financial and spiritual success before she can go after her dreamy doctor. Will she make it?
The script meanders as if it is tentative about what to do with it's larger than life narrative and star. Mo'Nique clearly is best when she if improvising her own tirades at the skinny obsessed world, but she's also called on to weigh in as a heavy dramatic actress. There are moments we see her promise as an actual actress as she allows the camera to show her vulnerable and unkempt. But there's not enough heft in the movie to hammer home the well intentioned moral at the end of the play. It's nearly impossible to mix comedy, drama, and a message. Phat Girlz never hits a stride with any of these elements, and they feel diminished as a result. As a bad movie it has good moments, yet somehow that is more discomforting. Were it all just a mangled mess, we could pass it off as a camp classic and have fun with it. Yet Phat Girlz has just enough real moments to make the bad ones that much more painful.
Even more disturbingly, the movie accidentally plays right in to the hands of the very people it is trying to criticize. Mo'Nique is shown in unflattering light so much it undermines her transformation later. Oddly enough, poolside we are given a glimpse of her unshaven legs, and I spent the whole scene wondering why she left the hair on when she was supposed to look "pretty" and together (it's a personal choice of the actress, but they could have covered that up easily). Also, for all the film's ranting about fat girls, the men they desire are miles away from unfit. Every guy in the film sports a six pack, beautiful teeth, and impressive genes. No love for any imperfect men is shown. If they had hooked up the skinny cousin with a flawed guy it could have been a nice counterpoint.
The DVD packs on the extras like an all you can eat buffet. Commentary is provided by first time director Nnegest Likke, and she proves more thoughtful than the film she has crafted. This is an important message for her, and maybe someday she will find a better story to work on. There is a touching tribute to producer Bobby Newmeyer, who passed away only two weeks after Fox picked up the film for distribution. The blooper reel has more laughs than the feature, and it's a must watch. The director includes her video diary from the filming, which is a nice touch. We get a handful of deleted scenes that don't add up to much that could save the film, but offer Mo'Nique improvising funnier lines. And finally, we get a requisite "making of" feature that gives us talking heads talking about making the project. Picture and sound quality are slightly off, and I imagine it comes from the film's independent source. Phat Girlz was shot out of sequence, on a hectic scheduleand on the cheap, and it often shows—especially in the transfer. The movie was not shot on film, and sometimes it looks homemade. Sound is a full-figured surround, but it rarely uses more than your basic three channels up front.
Mo'Nique is fat, and that's the whole movie. How can you build something around that alone? She is the butt of most all the jokes, and that's not funny. Also the movie aimed for a PG-13, and if you've seen Mo'Nique perform you'll agree they should have gone for the R rating. Toning down Mo'Nique is not a great idea, and that is what they have done. Mo'Nique deserves better, and so does her audience. Here's hoping that someone will come along and make a movie where her weight doesn't matter. In the end, isn't that what Phat Girlz is crying out for? She has a hell of a lot more going on for her than her weight, and this film gets crushed by focusing on it. Phat Girlz is a big let down, and like a diet will leave you feeling hungry and grumpy for more substance.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Nnegest Likke
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