Ava and Tanzie Marchetta are über-chic "celebutantes" (think Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) who are accustomed to partying the night away with society's elite—while paparazzi capture it all for the masses ("We're the Marchetta sisters and you're watching E!").
With the unexpected death of their father (the creator of a cosmetic empire), the two girls are all alone in the world and worth gazillions of dollars. But his passing doesn't really put a hitch in their busy party schedules until an exposé reporter digs up evidence that their father's latest line of skin products will horribly scar its users. The cosmetic company suffers, and the girls must face the choice of either going broke or selling the business to a hated rival (Fabiella) and contenting themselves to be mere multimillionaires.
Along the way, the hapless duo accidentally burn down their house, see their "friends" desert them, have their Mercedes convertible stolen, move in with their Colombian maid and (horrors!) have their credit cards cancelled. They don't know how to work (they've only learned how to be pretty), so they decide to become their own private investigators to find out if this whole scandal was created by some diabolical cosmetic-heiress hater.
Although nearly totally focused on herself, Tanzie (and Ava, to a degree) really loved her father. She admired his desire to help others with their skincare. So, when his good name is smeared, she earnestly wants to prove that he was innocent.
When the girls fall into financial ruin, their maid, Inez, warmly welcomes them into her humble home. With time, the girls come to recognize this woman's sacrificing, loving heart and how she cared for them in their mother's absence ("Mom's in Europe. She changed her name to Isis and calls us her cousins"). Ava asks Inez why she worries about them so, and she says, "That's what mommas do." Later, the girls help reunite Inez with her daughters who had been blocked from coming to the U.S. by legal red tape.
Henry (a volunteer lawyer for "poor people") and Rick (a lab technician) both selflessly help the girls. Ava thinks Henry is different from her other self-focused friends, and says, "He takes me seriously. You know, like Daddy did."
The sisters' father was a generous man whose slogan was, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
During their travails, Ava half-heartedly blames God, saying, "I'm God's personal joke."
The Marchetta girls are always clad in form-fitting dresses with plunging necklines and/or very short skirts. The most meaningful compliment they exchange is "You look hot."
While watching Julia Roberts show off cleavage in Erin Brockovich, Tanzie says," It's amazing what you can do with a really good push-up bra." This inspires her to dress even more provocatively—with a tight skirt and midriff-baring low-cut top—to seduce a guard into letting her see sensitive files. He ogles her front and back as she does everything possible to make sure he (and the camera) notices all of her physical attributes.
After Tanzie is caught and thrown in jail, one of her cellmates says of her, "Looks like one of them fancy prostitutes." When Tanzie speaks of needing something abrasive to do a facial with, a "butch" woman says, "I got an egg roll in my bra." (In later outtakes she substitutes toothpaste, a corndog, jar of maraschino cherries and other colorful items.)
Sensual dancing is seen at a club. Ava kisses her TV-star boyfriend there, and we also see him kissing someone else. He signs his name on the abdomen of an adoring fan. An actress on a TV soap opera is heard saying to her boyfriend, "I'm sorry I slept with your dad." One of the girl's male friends is stereotypically depicted as effeminately gay and shown putting on makeup with female friends.
Any violent content is broad comic slapstick or humor-related dialogue. A man is hit in the face with a notebook when it's discovered that he's a liar. Ava falls into a trash bin and also trips while running in high heels.
While visiting Fabiella's office, Ava says, "I'd kill my firstborn for a Macchiato." Oddly, Fabiella retorts, "If you knew my firstborn, you'd kill him for a lot less than that." When Tanzie lands in jail, large tattooed women move threateningly toward her. (Tanzie defuses the situation by giving them facials.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
At two party scenes, several people are seen smoking. But when Ava and Tanzie are offered a cigarette, they grimace and decline. Ava does light up later when she's under a lot of stress. (Interestingly, the film's editors decided to include an end-credits outtake of Haylie Duff expressing disgust with the taste of it while shooting the scene.)
At a nightclub, one of Tanzie's friends asks her if she wants some of her Prozac to help her calm down. In the background of one scene, a soap-opera character talks of attempting suicide by taking "three months worth of birth control pills."
Material Girls has a few things going for it. It stars tween fave Hilary Duff (of Lizzie McGuire fame) and her sister, Haylie, who both sparkle in their silly, haute couture roles. And it has a good supporting cast that includes Ever After's wickedly brilliant stepmother (Anjelica Huston) and a beloved android (Brent Spiner). It's bouncy, upbeat and directed with more than a modicum of understanding of its Teen Vogue-obsessed audience. It's even relatively restrained when it comes to sex, drugs, skin and sleaze. (Consider the content of the more typical teen-girl targeted movie John Tucker Must Die for sake of comparison.)
But the script is dry and the end result feels like something you've already seen. (How many times over the years have we watched clueless richies hand over the keys of their immaculate Mercedes to guys on the street thinking they're valets?) The point behind Material Girls is supposed to be: Money doesn't buy happiness. Ava even says it outright in one scene. But though our heroines do learn a little about the value of friendship, it's difficult to wholeheartedly accept the "money vs. happiness" lesson from a movie that ultimately reinforces a nation's obsession with the tabloids' treatment of idle celebrity.
At story's start, we're supposed to feel superior to these self-focused beauties. They don't even know how to pay for a bus ride! Then we see that they're smarter (or at least luckier) than we think. They've solved the mystery, caught the bad guys and restored their fortunes ... which means they can once again dress up in the latest runway fashions and—guess what—be happy again. Loaded and happy.