The Perfect Man
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Holly Hamilton, 16, writes a blog called “Girl on the Move.” She named it that because she and her single mom, Jean, and her 7-year-old sister, Zoe, head off to a new city every time her mom breaks up with a guy. And she breaks up a lot. Their latest stop is Brooklyn, N.Y., where her mom goes to work in another bakery and Holly starts over at another high school.
Holly’s mom is desperate for a man, even suggesting in front of everyone at a PTA meeting that the school hold a singles mixer for parents. Embarrassed and determined not to move again, Holly decides the only way to make her mom stay put is to invent a secret admirer, the ideal guy to keep her mom happy long enough for Holly to get a life.
Holly creates “Ben” with the help of new friend Amy and the advice of Amy’s romantic, woman-savvy restaurateur Uncle Ben. Using the real Ben’s snapshot and personality, Holly buys her mom flowers, sends gifts and love notes and, eventually, begins an e-mail relationship. Meanwhile, afraid to get her own heart broken, Holly resists falling for a cute classmate with a crush on her.
Not surprisingly, the lies soon spin out of control, requiring ever more desperate scheming. When Holly realizes the fraud might actually be getting in the way of her mom’s happiness, it’s too late for an easy way out.
Despite the romantic angles, The Perfect Man is mostly a mother-daughter movie, and that’s where you’ll find its most positive messages. The relationship between Jean and her girls is obviously flawed, but it’s also portrayed as warm, supportive and growing. Mom admits she has made mistakes that have hurt herself and her daughters, but she’s very clear that the girls are the best part of her life. She explains that she put off her dreams for a big-time career when she became a mom. She grows to learn that her pursuit of a man and string of broken relationships have been selfish, that she needs to be a mom first and set an example of not running when things get tough.
Holly loves her mom and comes to feel thankful that her mom is trying hard to do the right thing. Holly sees how her own elaborate lying hurts instead of helps, and she regrets it. She also responds well when her mom takes a stand late in the movie.
The perfect man is nowhere to be found onscreen, but most of the guys are pretty decent. Both Uncle Ben and Holly’s guy-friend, Adam, are kind, forgiving, patient and supportive. Even a funny, stuck-in-the-80s schlub who falls hard for Jean and provides comic relief is given a warm and likable heart.
Two passionate kisses. Zero sexual relationships—at least within the timeframe of the movie. Jean’s a single mom, and we hear no implication she’s ever been married. She admits mistakes, but the film avoids any talk about whether sex outside of marriage is right or wrong. Jean reveals that when she got pregnant with Holly, the father wasn’t interested in kids. However, she says she never regretted her choice to “keep the baby.” An unfaithful boyfriend says to Jean of his infidelity, “They meant nothing to me,” and, “At least now I’ve got it out of my system.”
After seeing Holly for the first time since childhood, her mom’s friend comments on her “speed bumps” (breasts). Holly wears some lower-cut outfits, but nothing really revealing. Her friend Amy shows more cleavage and does a quick “sexy” dance in an attempt to draw the attention of a group of construction workers to a “Free Beer” sign. At a wedding shower, a woman holds up tiny lingerie and is told the point is for it not to cover anything. A pair of small panties gets flung onto someone’s head.
A minor, cartoonishly gay character works at Ben’s bistro, making eyes at other men and stereotypical quips about purses and shoes and show tunes and The Village People. He flirts shamelessly with a group of burly, clueless construction workers.
A new friend at her school introduces Holly to the idea of “skin virginity,” explaining that bodies without tattoos or piercings have “virgin skin.” Most kids in the neighborhood, she says, lose their skin virginity in fifth grade. She then very briefly flashes a tattoo just under her front waistline. Later, to distract an adult, Holly makes up a story about wanting piercings in nine places on her body and a tattoo on her back so low it could only be seen if she wore really low jeans.
A man gets hit in the face with a cake. In the way of siblings everywhere, Holly threatens her little sis with, “How would you like bruises all over your body?” At a wedding, a bride punches her groom in response to some mistaken info. Holly continually gives the truth a good thrashing.
Crude or Profane Language
The ubiquitous expression "Oh my god" is blurted once or twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Uncle Ben owns a restaurant called the River Bistro. Wine is served to guests and free beer is handed out to a group of construction workers.
Other Negative Elements
The makers of The Perfect Man definitely know their audience of tween girls and the moms who love them. Director Mark Rosman has been here before with Hilary Duff in A Cinderella Story, and he hits all the right emotional notes to draw daughters and moms into the relationships between the characters. The strength of those relationships and the movie’s relative wholesomeness helps to distract from weaknesses in the plot and the fact that so much of the film involves watching people type e-mails to each other.
Given the ever-shrinking standards of young starlets these days, Hilary Duff’s stubborn commitment to maintaining her clean image seems especially courageous. I’m sure she hears all the time that she needs to sex herself up to keep her audience, but she hasn’t yet started down the Britney/Lindsay/Christina track. Just weeks before this film hit theaters she told Seventeen, "I know I get called a goody-good. But I don't think that's an insult. I'd rather be a good role model. ... When people try to rip off their clothes because they want to grow up so fast, it isn't a sign of maturity. That's a sign of immaturity. It's not a very good example, either."
It’s no wonder parents of tween girls feel more comfortable with Duff movies than other teen flicks. The Perfect Man mostly continues that trend, steering clear of swearing, sex and overly crude humor. Instead, it gives us what turns out to be a realistic and positive relationship between a teen girl and her struggling, lonely, single mom.
I say “turns out to be” because, of course, the whole story is about a teen girl elaborately deceiving her mom in a really cruel way under the guise of making her happy. The film has its fun with Holly’s ever-slipping scheme. But unlike Duff’s Raise Your Voice, where her character succeeds because of lying to her dad, The Perfect Man makes clear that these lies will hurt in the end. In one scene, for instance, Holly and Amy conspire together in class on new deceptions, oblivious to a teacher-led discussion about the Sir Walter Scott quote, “Oh, what tangled webs we weave/When we first practice to deceive.”
It’s the eventual honesty and growth between mom and daughter that’s most encouraging. Lessons blossom: Single moms don’t need a man to make them whole people. Lying is not a good way to make someone happy. Running away is a bad plan for avoiding pain. Moms need to work on being the women they want their daughters to become.
Add to all that generous helpings of romance, and most guys will wish they were watching Batman Begins again. But Rosman’s aim is dead-on for his target viewers. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the film throws in a stock, flamboyantly gay character for comic relief. Carson Kressley from TV’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy works the tired stereotypes hard in a small role that deflates an otherwise tween-friendly and positive film.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Hilary Duff as Holly Hamilton; Heather Locklear as Jean Hamilton; Chris Noth as Uncle Ben; Aria Wallace as Zoe Hamilton; Vanessa Lengies as Amy Pearl
Mark Rosman ( )