Directed by Nnegest Likké. Starring Mo'Nique, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Godfrey, Kendra C. Johnson, Joyful Drake, Eric Roberts, Jack Noseworthy. (2006, PG-13, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 14, 2006
Comedian Mo’Nique’s first starring film vehicle, Phat Girlz, suffers from a bad case of undernourishment. Not that the movie doesn’t serve up heaping amounts of fat jokes, or that it doesn’t deliver targeted gags for an underserved niche audience – fat women. Phat Girlz’s anemia instead results from the unoriginal script, uncontrolled performances, and clunky direction. Writer-director Likké’s film is as static as her camera shots, and as unsupervised and rowdy as a college frat party. After a disorienting opening sequence that reveals the sexy dream fantasies of Jazmin Biltmore (Mo’Nique), a character whom we’ve yet to meet, the film’s meager plot gets rolling. Jazmin works behind a counter in the women’s wear division of a department store, but she aspires to be a fashion designer of plus-sized women’s clothing. Her boss (Noseworthy) won’t let her near the store’s buyer (an especially good Roberts) to show him her sketches. Then Jazmin wins a weeklong spa vacation from one of the many diet plans she subscribes to, and takes her full-bodied friend Stacey (Johnson) and stick-thin cousin Mia (Drake) along for the trip. As luck would have it, the hotel is teeming with handsome and buff Nigerian doctors, who in keeping with their cultural traditions, prefer women with ample meat on their bones. Of course, all the doctors and other men in the film are as fit as male models, with six-pack abs and toned muscles. In an uncommon twist, they are also frequently the subjects of slo-mo body scans by the camera. However, the movie’s double standard is clear: Large women deserve equal opportunities in love and clothing lines, but fat men are better off unseen and unheard. Mo’Nique’s comic persona doesn’t blend well into this story: She plays sassy or pouty but any nuances of real character were left on the drawing board. God help the tacky victim who suggests Jazmin try Jenny Craig because that will lead to an unbridled tongue-lashing. And a later scene in which Jazmin has an emotional breakdown and trashes her bedroom has all the grace of lethal hurricane. You’ve got to appreciate that the film includes questions about the Nigerian custom of female circumcision, but the movie’s impossibly happy ending and the chaotic nature of everything that has preceded it makes Phat Girlz a dish of empty calories.