Sunday, June 30, 2013

Famous Flops: The Hottie & the Nottie

This is the latest in my monthly series called Famous Flops, in which I watch one movie per month I know to be famously terrible, financially unsuccessful, or otherwise a flop.

Fall in line, Vance. Fall in line.

I can't.


I'm sorry, I just can't. I have to admit it:

I sort of liked The Hottie & the Nottie.

Ugh. I just died a little bit.

After three straight months of movies that I was supposed to hate that I didn't hate -- I didn't love them, to be sure, but neither did I hate them -- I thought for sure I'd hit the goldmine with the awful, terrible, miserable, awful (did I already say "awful"?) Paris Hilton vehicle that is so bad, it's the butt of modern jokes about what it means to be a bad movie.

And I liked it the most out of the four.

One of my core beliefs about film criticism is that you tell people what you actually think of a movie, even if it embarrasses you more than any sentiment you've ever spoken aloud before.

Good thing I'm only typing this rather than speaking it aloud:

I sort of liked The Hottie & the Nottie.

Here's what I expected to discover from the movie with the 7 Metascore and the 5% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes: That it was such an inexcusably vain exercise for Hilton that any ordinary narrative reality was thrown out the window in the service of a misguided lionization of "hotties" and a cruel and brutish dismissal of "notties."

Here's what I actually discovered:

1) Hilton will never win an Oscar, but she is capable of believable moments and more subtlety than anyone would ever dream of giving her credit for.

2) The film's heart is most certainly in the right place, even if it ends up being one of those standard "'ugly' girl is actually pretty when she finally cleans herself up" movies.

3) Joel Moore is an infinitely likable protagonist with deft comic timing. Since you likely don't know who Joel Moore is, he's this guy:

Of course, just admitting that you sort of like a universally reviled movie isn't the end of it. Not by a long shot. The next step is that you must discover why you liked it -- or perhaps more importantly, why other people hated it so much.

And here's what I've decided: Hating on Paris Hilton is the easiest thing in the world. It's a critical softball that almost anyone can hit out of the park.

Because the essential problem with The Hottie & the Nottie, especially for a Hilton hater, is that it kind of worships at the altar of Paris. Not to the overall detriment of the story, if you can ignore it, but enough so that it's easy to latch on to it if you decide you want to.

For starters, a line of dialogue refers to Hilton's Cristabel Abbott as "the hottest woman in Los Angeles." That's a particularly absurd claim given that Los Angeles is home to Hollywood, which is chock to the brim with women whose physical beauty is their primary asset. Cristabel is not even one of those women -- she doesn't even make her living on her appearance. (In fact, I can't remember what her job is at all and I just saw the movie last night.)

Then there's the fact that the camera delights in running up and down Hilton's body on a couple occasions. You know Hilton gets off on stuff like that.

But here's the thing: Many movies have had characters whose entire function is to be "the hot chick." (In fact, there was a whole movie called The Hot Chick.) The problem we have with it here is that Paris sees herself as capable of filling this role, and she is the creative entity most responsible for the existence of the movie in the first place. If she were just an actor hired to play this role, we wouldn't fault her. But as a sign of her lack of humility, it enrages us.

The thing is, Paris Hilton is sort of hot, in certain objective ways. She has a thin body. She has very good cheek bones. She has blonde hair, which plays a surprisingly significant role in making someone appear hot. There's so much backlash against her that we think she's not attractive, and we can certainly bag on ways in which she isn't so attractive (especially her personality), but it's not like she's an ugly girl trying to pass herself off as a pretty girl. She is pretty -- she's just not the "hottest woman in Los Angeles."

I must have some kind of soft spot for this person because I also didn't subscribe to the popular sentiment that she was one of the primary elements that ruined Repo! The Genetic Opera. Part of that is because I don't think Repo! was ruined. In fact, I own it -- and even though it was given to me as a gag gift, the person giving it to me gave it to me because they knew I actually liked it. Hilton's role is not that big in that movie, and it's certainly nothing to laugh at. Paris Hilton has the basic competence necessary to be an actor. There, I said it.

Because I'm sure you don't care if I spoil it, The Hottie & the Nottie ends up being a fairly traditional romantic comedy with a fairly traditional dose of gross-out humor (though not as much as the reviews would lead you to believe), in which Moore's character eventually falls for "the nottie," played pretty charmingly by Christine Lakin. If you want to look at it as a sign of Hilton's lack of vanity, she doesn't need to make herself the romantic lead in her own movie. She's essentially kind of a Macguffin that helps the male romantic lead find the female romantic lead. If she were truly as delusional as we all think, she'd figure out a way to have it both ways -- and that's what would make a movie worthy of our concentrated hatred, because it would likely ignore things like tried-and-true story structure and the traditional sense of which characters audiences find sympathetic. Instead, Hilton is intelligent enough to know what role she must play in this movie -- even if on some level it is a shallow homage to her physical beauty.

If you are looking for big problems with The Hottie & the Nottie, they are the same as with movies like She's All That, where an ugly duckling is transformed into a swan through what should be some fairly easy physical adjustments. I haven't seen She's All That, but I understand that making the female lead beautiful is literally as simple as taking her glasses off. It's a bit more complicated in TH & TN, as Lakin's character has somehow let an awful dental problem linger into her mid-20s, and has a massive mole on her chin. Why she hasn't taken care of these problems any earlier -- especially when she has a beauty-obsessed swan as her best friend (Hilton actually literally looks like a swan) -- is merely one of those plot mechanics that just needs to be that way for the story. It's stupid, but it's no more stupid than She's All That or other movies of their ilk.

The Hottie & the Nottie also distinguishes itself, slightly, by trying to put its finger on a real social phenomenon -- one that actually contains a bit of self-deprecation on Hilton's part if viewed the right way. The actual phenomenon of the title has to do with the idea that in order to have a chance with a pretty girl, a suitor has to ingratiate himself to her unattractive best friend. There's probably some truth to this, it's just that this movie exaggerates it (greatly) for comic effect. The elephant in the room, though, is why the pretty girl has an ugly best friend in the first place, which perhaps the film should have tackled more overtly if it wanted to qualify as true self-deprecation. The idea has always been that a pretty girl who's friends with an ugly girl does it so that she can look comparatively more beautiful. That suggests that the hottie (in this case Hilton) has real insecurities, and in some ways probably has low self-esteem. A reasonably solid core on which to build a gross-out romantic comedy.

And yes, some of the gross-out parts are, indeed, gross. The nottie also has terrible issues with her toenails, and at one point, one flies off and lands in the mouth of the guy who's being paid to be her date. Yes, that kind of thing is puerile and gross -- but no more so than a hundred other comedies that we don't lambast like we lambast The Hottie & the Nottie. (As a person who has bad toenail issues myself, I also tend to think of this kind of thing as less of an exaggeration and more of a reality.)

The 7 Metascore contains universally negative reviews, but the slight difference between this scale and Rotten Tomatoes is that a 5% freshness rating means that some people actually did rate the movie as fresh. Three people, to be exact. Here's what they said in their capsule reviews:

"At the risk of going against the obvious 'it's-cool-to-hate-Hilton' popular majority, it should be stated up front that The Hottie & the Nottie isn't half-bad." - Dustin Putnam,

"I wouldn't say it's particularly good, but certain measured elements of the genre create something surprisingly passable." - Eric Kohn, New York Press

"It's hard to fault the filmmakers, because given the premise, it could have been much MUCH worse." - Edward Douglas,

That's all I'm saying.

Though it should be noted that the first critic who gave it a fresh rating is Dustin Putnam, and the director of this film is Tom Putnam. Hmm. So maybe it's only two fresh ratings after all.

Still, what's clear from these comments is that the people knew they were supposed to hate it. They didn't because they were more courageous than other people who saw the same movie, who maybe also didn't hate it, but knew that a review full of vitriol was expected of them. There's no easier punching bag than Paris Hilton, and no negative review would be held up to less scrutiny than this one. They weren't going to be confronted on the street by anyone who said "I can't believe you said that about The Hottie & the Nottie." So, they said it, and they said it with glee.

Me, I'm honest, so I say again:

I sort of liked The Hottie & the Nottie.

Okay, I think I've found a can't miss movie for July. It's a movie I desperately wanted to see in time to rank it for my 2012 list, but the damn thing took forever to get to video. It's The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, and it's streaming on Netflix if you want to watch it with me.

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