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By Pete Vonder Haar | April 10, 2006

If you don’t really feel a connection with movies about large women realizing their inner beauty and overcoming the tribulations of living in a society obsessed with emaciation at any cost, you may spend the majority of “Phat Girlz” in a state of near-constant incredulity. I certainly did, and what follows are just a few of the questions that leapt unbidden to mind as I was sitting there trying to come up with suitable puns to use with the name Mo’Nique (Mo’Gnificient? Mo’Nuff? Mo’Bidly Obese?):

“Did she just say ‘O.J. had the right idea’ to that white woman dating the black guy?”

“Does nobody else here think she looks like an African-American Divine?”

“First my dreams and now real life, why do you haunt me so, Eric Roberts?”

“Phat Girlz” is the story of Jazmin, a rather large woman who – although she toils away at a department store by day – desperately wants to start her own line of plus-sized fashion. She’s also looking for a man, but all the likely candidates are too interested in “skinny b*****s” (her words, not mine) to show her any love.

All that changes when she goes to Palm Springs for a week’s vacation with her best friend Stacy (Kendra C. Johnson) and her annoyingly hot cousin Mia (Joyful Drake). There, Jazmin meets buff Nigerian doctor Tunde (Jimmy Jean-Louis), who sees something in her that evidently escaped all the shallow American men who turned their noses up at her. He finds her size attractive, much to Mia’s shock and Jazmin’s initial distrust. Could love be in the cards? Or is Tunde really just using Jazmin to further his actual agenda: which is to create an invincible army of overweight zombies who will return with him to Nigeria and wrest control of the country’s oil production from the West?

If only “Phat Girlz” were that complicated. What we have is a fairly straightforward empowerment story – be happy with who you are and you can, you know, succeed and stuff. Mo’Nique’s character is refreshing simply from the standpoint of being unrepentantly obese. She’s a half-assed dieter, but always succumbs to the lure of chili fries or fatburgers. Her eventual acceptance of the way she is sounds cheesy, but is certainly no more ridiculous than the rest of the film.

Like Tyler Perry’s “Diary of a Mad, Black Woman,” “Phat Girlz” swings on a thematic pendulum between semi-raunchy comedy and (in this case) vaguely spiritual drama. Here, as with Perry’s film, it lends an overall schizo effect to the proceedings. Mo’Nique has some good lines, and the movie actually works in scenes such as the one where she exchanges insults with a fast food cashier, but the otherwise lackluster dialogue, ludicrously unbelievable storyline, and the fact that the entire film looks and sounds like it was shot on a camcorder mean nobody outside of the studio’s target demographic is likely to check this out.

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