[7 February 2008]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Paris Hilton is the hottie in The Hottie & the Nottie. Indeed, banking on her infamy and at least partly in fun, the film dubs her character, Cristabel Abbott, “the hottest woman in Los Angeles.” (Just who makes this assessment is not clear.) Apparently not trusting viewers to keep up, the film marks her titular opposite unequivocally: Cristabel’s best friend since childhood, June Phigg (Christine Lakin), is ugly in every possible way, a monstrous scabby girl with a mole on her chin, rotty teeth, pimples, hairy legs, and a desperate need for Rogaine. Such is the gimmickry that passes for humor in Tom Putnam’s film.
“You know the girl,” narrates the wholly smitten Nate (Joel David Moore) at film’s start, “Your first real vision of beauty.” He’s talking as you’re watching six-year-old Nate’s first glimpse of six-year-old Cristabel, the camera panning a classroom full of boys with their heads ion their desks or pencils up their noses, boys whose understanding of beauty is premised on the same pop-cultural grinding machine that grants the most recent winner of the “Hastiest Pudding of the Lampoon Award” nightly minutes of airtime, whether for stepping out with Tinkerbell or getting out of jail. But much as he’s enraptured, Nate recalls, “Things don’t always work out the way you think they will when you’re six years old.” And so, his effort to impress his one true love with a homemade valentine falls short: he ends up in Maine while she stays in L.A.
Adult Nate’s reverie is interrupted by his current girlfriend’s tears and accusations (he’s self-absorbed and unable to commit, etc.). Ah-ha, he realizes as Jane (Kathryn Fiore) runs him down with her car during her escape, she’s right. And it’s all because of Cristabel. Determined to resolve what’s unresolved, he makes quick work of the 3,000 miles between him and his object of debilitating desire, whereupon he learns that she’s working as a party planner and looking out for roommate June, still ugly. Urged by his own childhood friend, Arno (The Greg Wilson), Nate joins a squad of self-identified Cristabel obsessives, waiting for her to jog by their benches on the beach as she does every morning (one is a mentally defective albino named “Randy,” charged with stalking and legally bound to keep back 40 feet. As she passes in slow motion, they gasp and paw the air like puppies; Nate makes his move, jogging along beside his one true love until he literally falls on her, a move as hideous and Farrellys-derived as it sounds. Cristabel is touched.
The plot that unfolds from here offers nothing you can’t anticipate. Instructed by Arno on laws of physics, (“In order to gain access to the hottie, the nottie must be appeased”), Nate endeavors to get June laid. This is Cristabel’s dearest wish and also the condition for her even thinking about sex with Nate. Despite her prodigious sexual history, she has gone celibate, she proclaims, until June loses her virginity, because, as she puts it, “A life without orgasms is like a world without flowers.”
As painful as it is to watch Hilton put her mouth around lines like this, the film is most seriously dreadful when it focuses on June. As hard as Nate tries to get June a date (by paying, intoxicating, and hypnotizing Adam Kulbersh), he’s bested by the Adonisian Johann (Johann Urb), who not only saves June from public ridicule by a horrific “midget mime,” but also offers to fix her teeth for free. Yes, this conspicuous cover boy for Men’s Abs is also a former Marine, Harvard grad, and dentist.
Johann’s promise to fix June throws a minor wrench in her characterization thus far. Turns out she’s not only the unbelievably gauche, terminally awkward, acerbically smart defender of Cristabel’s nonexistent honor, but she’s also a very regular movie girl who wants to be rescued and loved and laid after all. “Knowing what you are,” June explains just before her happy ending, “is also knowing what you’re not.”
Not really. She’s going to lose her revolting veneer (at one point, her fungusy toenail literally pops off and lands in a potential suitor’s mouth) and bring her brilliant inner beauty roaring to the surface. This so she can achieve her heart’s desire, which would be impossible, of course, should she maintain her defiant unsightliness.
The Hottie & the Nottie doesn’t exactly ask you to like it, being almost pathologically upfront with its incompetence and banality. Still, the film’s meanness is daunting, even after it’s covered over in a few last minutes by formulaic romance. The hyperbole of June’s many abuses by others doesn’t make it funny, and neither does the stunning lack of imagination that shapes her hopelessness. The point is to teach Nate a lesson about his delusory heart’s desire, not to mention the cruel culture that produces it. But in 2008, using hotties and notties as the means to that education can only be called retarded.