While you chew on that stunning display of gender politics, Phat Girlz continues to lob out broad slapstick humor - including an honest to God insult-off featuring fat jokes vs. you-so-ugly ones - and utterly one-note cliché characters. The plot, such as it is, finally gets going when Jazmin wins a trip to a posh Palm Springs resort and brings her two best friends, her skinny-bitch cousin Mia (Joyful Drake) and her fellow "sexy succulent," the reserved, schoolmarmish Stacy (Kendra C. Johnson). Jazmin catches the eye of Tunde (Jimmy Jean-louis), a Nigerian doctor visiting for a medical conference, who likes his women "thick." Despite Jazmin's tendency to rudeness and blatant grilling of him, his intentions, and his beliefs, Tunde pursues her with a single-mindedness only found in romantic comedies.
While clearly made with the best of intentions, giving girl power and fairy tale romance to the plus sized woman, first time writer-director Nnegest Likké does not seem up to the task. Her lambasting of the hatin' that is directed at the heavy based on looks is seriously undermined by being one of the most superficial films I've ever seen. Apparently, it is just fine, even funny or romantic, to judge someone entirely on looks - as Tunde does to Jazmin, and vice versa - as long as the verdict is favorable. And jokes made at the expense of looks are totally acceptable, as long as they are aimed at the smug, skinny Mia, who is deemed and undesirable, emaciated toothpick by Tunde and his pals.
There are some nominal sweet moments - Stacy's discovery of her own beauty and subsequent emerging from her self-imposed exile in sweater sets and dowdy glasses, thanks to some raucous sex with one of the Nigerian doctors, is actually a very nice secondary story - and the comedy, though aggressive and extremely limited in subject, is still present, and even occasionally amusing. And because this is a blatant showcase for Mo'Nique, the film is a veritable parade of hairstyles, elaborate eye makeup and fun clothes. Lots and lots of clothes.
Unfortunately, though, Phat Girlz plays like amateur hour. Any cleverness to the writing is overshadowed by the cheap filmmaking that looks more suited to a shoestring, undistributed indie or a bit of fluff from the Lifetime Network. And despite a fairly lean runtime of just over an hour and half, it drags, significantly, probably because only the middle portion has a balance between comedy, character, and plot. The opening is just a protracted fat joke rebuttal, and the end veers sharply into adolescent wish fulfillment territory, complete with pink curly script scrawled across the screen to help narrate. All of the good intentions and devotion to a message cannot compensate for unimpressive filmmaking.
Part of me wants to believe that I am missing something in Phat Girlz, that I am outside the target audience or that I am inadvertently buying into some "thin is the only true beauty" conspiracy, but it's a no go. It's just a bad movie.
Did you hear the one about yo momma? Oh you did?
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th April 2006
Box Office USA: $6.9M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 2.9 / 10
Director: Nnegest Likké
Producer: Steven Imes, Robert F Newmyer, Steven J. Wolfe
Screenwriter: Nnegest Likké