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Dustin Putman

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The Perfect Man (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Mark Rosman
Cast: Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth, Aria Wallace, Ben Feldman, Vanessa Lengies, Mike O'Malley, Caroline Rhea, Kym Whitley, Michelle Nolden, Ashley Newbrough, Carson Kressley, Dennis De Young
2005 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mildly suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 15, 2005.

As a 23-year-old male, color me an unlikely fan of multitalented teen superstar Hilary Duff, whose last two starring vehicles, 2004's "A Cinderella Story" and 2004's "Raise Your Voice," were real charmers that proved she could carry a movie on her own. She amiably carries her latest, "The Perfect Man," too, but her luck has finally run out with this otherwise tiresome trifle of a project. A sugary, distaff version of 1999's exquisite dramedy "Anywhere But Here," which starred Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as a dysfunctional mother and daughter always on the move and searching for the "next big thing," "The Perfect Man" offers nothing new to the formula aside from a lot of contrived plot developments and a dumbed-down script by Gina Wendkos (2001's "The Princess Diaries").

For as long as she can remember, 16-year-old Holly Hamilton (Hilary Duff) has lived her life moving constantly from town to town, as single mother Jean (Heather Locklear) hops from one bad relationship to the next in search of true love. When her latest boyfriend dumps her, Jean once again packs up their things and moves Holly and 7-year-old daughter Zoe (Aria Wallace) to Brooklyn for a fresh start. Holly, who narrates the story via her weblog that she writes in, is tired of running away and humoring her mom's rash actions, so she decides to create out of thin air what she believes would be Jean's ideal man. Using a picture of new friend Amy's (Vanessa Lengies) handsome restauranteur uncle, Ben (Chris Noth), as a visual aide, Holly begins a relationship with Jean over the Internet posing as the fictional Ben. What Holly doesn't expect is the attachment Jean starts to form for this made-up person, made all the worse with the gradual realization that the real Ben really is her mother's perfect match.

Directed by Mark Rosman with little of the flair he brought to his last collaboration with Hilary Duff, "A Cinderella Story," "The Perfect Man" is featherweight and sporadically phony, opting for hoary cliches and strained story points in lieu of developing a solid, three-dimensional core relationship between Holly and unlucky-in-love mom Jean. The results aren't so much bad as regrettably indifferent, complete with a thin premise missing a much-needed feeling of urgency and charisma to carry the viewer through its 96 minutes. Everything on display is safe and vanilla and not terribly interesting, and the cutesy dialogue hits all the wrong notes when it should be striving for authenticity. Additionally, the film makes the fatal error of concluding just as Jean finally meets the man she is meant to be with. Without any scenes between she and Ben prior to this final moment, it is awfully difficult to care and root for the romance at its center.

Amidst the troubled waters are some bright spots that lift the picture above being a painful experience; as is, it is merely disposable. A rare wry sequence finds Jean going out with an overeager co-worker (Mike O'Malley) at the bakery she is employed at, only to be taken to a faux-Styx concert with band impersonators and a date who goes scarily beyond being just a casual fan of their music. Some of the moments in which Holly writes in her online journal are also welcome, as this is a pastime hardly ever seen in the world of cinema but that is a major part of many teenagers' lives. The best and most dramatically potent scene in the movie, though, is an IM conversation between Jean and Holly (secretly posing as Ben), where Holly learns for the first time about the regrets and sadness in her mother's life. If more of "The Perfect Man" was this truthful, freeing of its broader comedic elements, director Mark Rosman might have been onto something. Instead, he more often than not tries way too hard with lame one-liners and character stereotypes, such as Ben's flamboyant bartender, Lance (Carson Kressley of Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy").

Hilary Duff remains a bright screen presence, someone who is fun to watch and projects a real goodness in her heart, but her catalyst role as Holly Hamilton is not much of a stretch; she is basically playing the same part she did in "A Cinderella Story" and "Raise Your Voice," only with less depth found on the written page. As the lead adults in the story, Heather Locklear (2003's "Uptown Girls") and Chris Noth (2001's "The Glass House") are fine, but unremarkable, overshadowed by Duff. Newcomer Ben Feldman and Vanessa Lengies (TV's "American Dreams") round out the central cast members as Holly's obvious love interest and best friend, respectively.

As a love story (or stories), "The Perfect Man" isn't particularly romantic. As a comedy, only the very occasional joke or circumstance raises to the level of amusement. And as a mother-daughter relationship drama, the film mucks up its potential by remaining negligently developed. It all adds up to just enough to possibly please die-hard fans of Duff and Locklear, but even some of them will probably have to admit they've seen it all before, and done with a whole lot more energy and sparkle. "The Perfect Man" is mediocre fare at its most ordinary.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman