The above photo is an actual publicity shot made available to press covering the Universal Pictures release The Perfect Man. Adorable, isn't it? If you didn't know better (and maybe you don't), you'd hardly guess from that shining face and green grass and proud clapper-board the disturbing depths The Perfect Man plumbs. Who would've thought, for instance, that the certifiably awful/unaccountably popular Hilary Duff was daring enough to make a movie about having a lesbian relationship with her mother?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Hilary plays Holly, a 16-year-old blogger whose handle is "Girl on the Move." That's because her attractive mother Jean (Heather Locklear) pathologically hooks up with hateful men, and everytime one of her relationships implodes, she listens to Patsy Cline (ohhhhh); packs up Holly, her li'l sis Zoe (Aria Wallace), and all of their belongings (awwwww), and moves to a new city (as the kids say, WTF?). That's right, folks, according to Gina Wendkos's script, this family moves every couple of months because Heather Locklear can't find a good man.
Following the latest move from Wichita to New York City, Holly watches her cake-making mother take up a good job at a local bakery (alongside Caroline Rhea, doing her best Rosie O'Donnell impression) and swiftly submit to the amorous advances of a loser-co-worker named Lenny (Mike O'Malley of Yes, Dear). How do we know he's a loser? He uses musty pick-up lines, picks the wrong flowers, and unironically invites Jean to a concert by a Styx tribute band (hey, isn't that the real Dennis DeYoung?). But do not fear! Holly has a solution to mom's highly improbable, serial real-estate indulgence. No, not massive amounts of therapy, though that would make far more sense.
Rather, Holly enlists the advice of the uncle of her new best friend (of course!); apparently, this middle-aged, single restauranteur (played by Chris Noth of Law and Order and Sex in the City fame) is the repository of all guy wisdom regarding women. So this teenage girl plies the older man for advice, even going to his apartment alone at one point to chat him up about dating. Though the plot appears at this point to have the makings of Lolita, The Perfect Man turns out to be another wan farce about inventing a nonexistent person and perpetuating the lie for the better, or worse, part of ninety minutes.
Holly begins writing love letters to her mother and eventually finds herself in a romantic, live IM session with Mom, which Wendkos tries to spin into a sweet device allowing Holly to learn her mother's true feelings, even though from Locklear's side of the scene, it's about falling more deeply for her daughter (and, yes, by extension, with Uncle Ben). Meanwhile, Holly pathologically fends off the charming advances of a comic-book-loving artist (Ben Feldman). And why? I learned it by watching you, Mom! I learned it by watching you!
One of Uncle Ben's most cherished pieces of advice (aside from his recipe for long grain rice and his reminder "With great power comes great responsibility") is to play a song guaranteed to make a woman happy: "I Will Learn To Love Again" by teen sensation Kaci. This tidbit leads to a ghastly scene in which the three women of Holly's household jump around like Tom Cruise on Oprah; it also begs the questions "How does a middle-aged, single restauranteur come to the knowledge that teen sensation Kaci wrote the Happiest Song on Earth
Some more questions I had about The Perfect Man: since when do PTA meetings flaunt perfect attendance by kids accompanying their parents? Isn't it a little odd to devote what appears to be an entire English class not to Sir Walter Scott's epic poem Marmion, but to its infamous two-line quotation "Oh what a tangled web we weave,/When first we practise to deceive!"? And will someone please ban Carson Kressley (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) from blotting any more movies with his unfunny queeny schtick?
The Perfect Man turns out to have a bold lesson about learning to stop avoiding life by entering and winning the New York Cake Competition, or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, or something like that. I'll be honest, I sorta tuned out whenever Hilary Duff popped in with more twee narration. Let's face it, girls: Gina Wendkos—whose previous, equally unambitious screenplays are The Princess Diaries, Coyote Ugly, and Jersey Girl—may not be the world's best feminist role model, which goes without saying for Duff, the worst actress still headlining movies. The crowning irony is that the only good thing about the movie is "Perfect Man" Noth, whose springy subtletly proves that manure truly is nature's fertilizer.