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Plus-sized Jazmin Biltmore is tired of living in a skinny world. Everywhere she goes, she seems to be slighted based on her weight. Bank tellers, fast-food cashiers, customers at the department store where she works ... they all roll their eyes and gush fat jokes. For Jazmin, then, life is an endless cycle of unsuccessful diets and calorie-burning pills, all in an attempt to reach the Ultimate Size—in her eyes, a 5. Then things will be right.
Meanwhile, this single gal's love life is nonexistent, which she blames more on the passé, limited clothing she and her other full-figured "sistas" are forced to wear than her actual physique. ("Why is all the good stuff in junior size?") As a wannabe fashion designer, she has a portfolio full of sketches and a long-harbored dream of starting her own clothing line for women facing her predicament.
After winning a contest, Jazmin heads to a five-star resort in Palm Springs with her skinny cousin Mia and best friend, Stacey. There, she meets a handsome Nigerian doctor named Tunde who treats her like a princess and cherishes her every pound. But just as things seem too good to be true, Jazmin's deep-seated self-loathing comes to the surface and threatens to end this dream and ruin her future.
Phat Girlz is all about attempting to convey a positive message (see my "Conclusion" for whether it succeeds in doing so or not), one that faces American society's obsession with thinness head-on. Here, living large—in style—is to be appreciated, respected and accepted. The movie blatantly attacks our culture's pressure on women to look the "perfect" way, targeting both the media and big corporations for not accepting and catering to those who can't squeeze into a size-2 pair of jeans. By contrast, it uses what it presents as the Nigerian culture's love for "thick madams" to turn the tables and place the overweight on a pedestal—while model-sized women are mocked as being unhealthy and malnourished.
Phat Girlz also touches on the emotional baggage carried by some plus-sized women. Beyond the subtle and not-so-subtle public ridicule they receive, Jazmin's character shows the degree to which many women's poor self-image destroys their love for themselves and others.
To help Jazmin overcome these problems, Tunde plays the perfect gentleman. He encourages and supports her at every turn. His words eventually inspire her to pursue her dreams, and she thanks him later for changing her life. She also apologizes for treating him badly. Likewise, Tunde's friend, Akibo, is equally complimentary to Stacey. "I wish you could see what I see," he tells her.
Stacey puts aside her own pleasure to comfort Jazmin, and the two shore up each other throughout their daily trials. Jazmin and Mia express their love for each other.
Jazmin says that as a youngster she prayed for God to make her skinny, adding that He didn't listen to her. Later, she thanks the Lord upon encountering a smorgasbord of fine dining ("... and let my stomach be much bigger than my eyes. Amen"). Another woman prays before a meal. Jazmin's grandmother holds a Bible in a picture. Eyeing the upscale resort, Jazmin says she's "died and gone to heaven."
One of Jazmin's primary reasons for shedding pounds is to get some "sexual healing" (she bemoans that she hasn't had any "action" for nine months). Her pent-up frustration apparently leads to an erotic dream, which leaves her moaning and writhing under the sheets. Indeed, sensuality seems to be on all the girls' minds throughout this flick. Stacey winds up having lots of sex with Akibo over a short period of time, and the pair is shown in various sexual positions and situations. (While nothing explicit is shown, sexual motions and sounds leave little to the imagination.)
A few couples kiss passionately. Several extremely crude jokes and comments reference oral sex, both male and female anatomy, female circumcision and intercourse. Mia comments twice on Tunde possibly being homosexual, and a gay co-worker at the department store jokes about being a woman.
Mia flaunts her toned body on several occasions, wearing short shorts and a thong bikini. The camera zooms in every chance it gets—on her and other barely-clothed women and men. (Several men appear wearing only loincloths. Billboard posters show the backsides of women in thong bikinis.) Mia, Stacey, Jazmin and other women reveal cleavage throughout.
Hot-blooded Jazmin knocks out a fast-food worker and attacks a banker after each insults her. She also talks about having used her thickness as a youngster to punch a schoolyard bully (in a flashback photograph, the "victim" is shown lying on the ground with a bloody nose). In a fit of rage, Jazmin tosses parts of a mannequin out her window (accidentally hitting Mia), along with a TV.
Crude or Profane Language
Virtually every joke and comment is accompanied with "a--," "d--n," "b--ch" or "h---." That causes the profanity tally to run well over 100. The s-word is spoken 10 times, and a subtitle includes a censored version of "m-----f-----." God's name is misused close to 20 times, while Jesus' gets profaned in four instances. There's also plenty of crude dialogue and terms, including a repeated play on Jazmin's boss's name, Dick.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jazmin and Co. celebrate every chance they get with a night out on the town, which means lots of alcohol. Mia is shown drunk at a club, while Jazmin quickly downs a series of shots. Beer, wine, champagne, martinis, Cosmopolitans, Long Island Iced Teas, daiquiris and other mixed drinks are all either shown or talked about.
Other Negative Elements
Eager to hop in bed with her dream man, Jazmin actually complains about Tunde being a gentleman and parting ways with a simple kiss on the hand—this after a single date. "I was trying to show you respect," Tunde explains. Sounds great ... except that he's more than "happy to oblige" her wishes when she voices her concern that he hasn't tried anything. "Who said anything about love?" Jazmin tells Stacey. "This is about lust."
Akibo is successful in bringing Stacey out of her usual shyness. His speech to inspire her to start "truly living," however, mixes fun with passion and a carpe-diem attitude—which translates to a wild weekend affair of nonstop sex.
I am nowhere close to being part of the tightly niched target audience of Phat Girlz. I'm not a woman, I'm not black, and I don't have a problem finding decent clothes that fit me. I certainly don't encounter public ridicule on a daily basis, nor do I have to wrestle with unspoken backstabbing based solely on my physique. So it's possible that I missed some of the emotional punch that stand-up comedienne Mo'Nique tries to pack in her tell-it-like-it-is project.
But it's obvious to me that, despite its B-level quality, Phat Girlz tries really hard to make a positive statement about accepting yourself for who you are—flabby thighs, love handles and all. And it's apparent that Mo'Nique, who also executive produced the movie, meant this as an empowering "preach it!" piece of entertainment that would inspire and invigorate full-figured women of all shapes and sizes.
There's a big difference in intending to do something, however, and actually doing it. Besides lots of foul language and sex, the film suffers from the very thing it's railing against. American society is unrelenting on women struggling with their weight. And yes, the magazine covers filled with waifish celebs, movie stars and runway models make matters worse. That's a serious cultural struggle that affects adults, teens and, sadly enough, even children today—particularly those of the female persuasion. When 8-year-old girls are dieting to the point of becoming anorexic, it's clear that we have a problem.
But while America may be obsessed with weight, so is Phat Girlz, to the extent that every onscreen moment falls victim to the same fat/thin filter. Women are either "fat b-ches" or "skinny b-ches"—with no room in between. (Interestingly enough, men seem to be irrelevant to the issue here.) The leaner type is to be hated; the bulkier are to rally together with an "I'll show you" battle cry.
Obviously, weight, body image, women's need to feel beautiful and media portrayal are all wrapped up into one sticky issue that society has handled rather pathetically. We are wrong. But so is being so consumed with the subject that it obliterates every other aspect of life. Depression, addictions, phobias ... these are all conditions that place blinders on people's eyes. Life becomes solely about the struggle, and nothing else. With all its good intentions, Phat Girlz keeps those blinders on for more than 90 minutes while telling a story that fails to burn off its crass content.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mo'Nique as Jazmin Biltmore; Kendra C. Johnson as Stacey; Joyful Drake as Mia; Jimmy Jean-Louis as Tunde; Godfrey as Akibo
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