A few weeks ago I was wandering around online, like you do, when I discovered that at some point years ago, Poppy Montgomery made a made-for-tv movie called Lying to be Perfect. Now, some of you may remember that Ms Montgomery was one of the actors in Without a Trace, which was a show I enjoyed very much for the first few seasons. I liked her in it and was happy to see her in something else, so I was all, “okay, let’s watch this movie.”
So I did and here is, more or less, what I thought.
Beware, though, there be spoilers ahead!
When I decided to give Lying to be Perfect a whirl, I knew only one thing about the movie: an actress whose work I have enjoyed before is in it.
What can I say? I’m easy that way.
Then I saw the blurb for the movie and misgivings started setting in:
By day, Nola Devlin (Poppy Montgomery) is an unassuming, frumpy magazine editor who is overlooked and teased by her coworkers. When the sun sets, though, and she is behind the glow and anonymity of her computer screen, she becomes the famous and reclusive advice columnist Belinda Apple. Nolas friends, tired of being overworked and overweight, band together to create the Cinderella Pact, vowing to lose pounds by following the advice of their fairy godmother, Apple. When her secret identity is threatened, Nola is forced to take her own alter ego’s advice. But, as the group of friends drops dress sizes, their real issues are exposed, and better-than-expected life changes begin to blossom.
Hold on a moment. They “drop dress sizes, then their real issues are exposed?” O-kay, then.
A bit further research revealed that it’s based on a book by Sarah Strohmeyer (for whatever value of “based on” applies in a Lifetime movie). I have never read a book by her, but her Wikipedia page says she writes “books about relations between men and women.” (I’m not sure I even want to explore what that statement actually means, by the by.)
At any rate, the book is The Cinderella Pact and the movie is basically a romantic comedy, and as such not necessarily a bad one.
Except, of course, for how weight is addressed.
Warning: rant ahead.
At the beginning of the movie, Nola is heavyset. Her two best friends are also heavyset. Her boss is model thin–and the most stereotypical asshole ever to boot. (Think Glenn Close in the remake of 101 Dalmatians). Now, Ms Montgomery is gorgeous regardless, so all her character needed to be a knockout was better fitting clothes, some make up, and self-confidence.
The opening voice over gave me some hope:
We are all Cinderellas. No matter what our size, within each one of us there is a unique beauty and grace. Finding that beauty, however, isn’t easy. See, Cinderella had first to recognize that her problem wasn’t her evil stepmother. Her problem was that it was easier to hide out cleaning the house than it was to go out and find happiness. She needed a fairy godmother to empower her with the kind of self-confidence it takes to reject the insecurity brought on by unrealistic, overachieving, airbrushed, anorexic princess images in the media.
Sadly, it quickly went downhill from there.
The premise is that Nola and her two best friends have all ‘let themselves go’ (weight-wise) and have reached a point where their weight is making them unhappy in different ways.
One of Nola’s friends is starting to have health issues related to her weight–which personally I consider a 100% valid reason to take action to lose weight.
Her other friend realizes that she’s been hiding behind her weight as it allows her to avoid dealing with certain issues in her professional life–a statement is made to the effect that both her personal and sex lives trudge along reasonably well regardless of her what the mirror reflects back to her.
As for Nola, at one point we learn that she has been fairly heavy most of her life, though apparently not as much as at present. It is not made clear, and I don’t want to invent implications that are not there, whether her self-confidence has been consistently eroded since puberty because of her weight, or if that is a more recent development tied to working with cartoonish-asshole-boss.
Whatever the cause, though, Nola’s self-confidence is at its lowest: she’s hiding behind a pseudonym to advance her career: she works as a copy editor, food-columnist, and other assorted menial positions by day, while writing the best ever advice column by night under a pseudonym.
What do I mean, the best ever advice column? Well, we learn pretty soon that printing that one advice column has saved the magazine Nola works for.
(Aside: I have no idea how close the movie is to the book, but if fairly close? Then the author could have used a bit more research on how actual newspapers and magazines work. One columnist will not save a magazine or a paper on the brink of bankruptcy, no matter how popular or how brilliant, and I sincerely doubt this has changed much in the past ten or fifteen years.)
Back to the movie.
As the movie starts, three different things happen pretty close together: Nola has a cute meet with a very handsome hunk; the magazine (or rather, the company that owns it) decides to publish a book of past columns and need the author to make public appearances to promote it; and Nola’s friends decide to follow said star columnist’s advice to take charge of their own lives by–of course!–losing weight.
The three of them make the eponymous Cinderella Pact–to stick together through diet and exercise until each reaches a set weight/appearance goal. The catch is that they promise to be completely honest with each other for the duration–and not just about those chocolate bars under the bed and the ice cream cartons in the freezer.
The plot is neither original nor complex: shenanigans ensue because now Nola is actively lying to her two best friends and dodging everyone, from her boss to her pseudonymous identity’s agent, and doesn’t know how to come clean. Which she needs to do with ever increasing urgency, of course.
Long story short: Nola loses the weight, wins the man, and triumphantly reveals herself as star author/columnist, while looking gorgeous and–again, of course!–sexy and svelte in a gorgeous dress and make up.
And while the movie is quite watchable, full of funny moments and witty quips, and physical comedy, it does make happiness contingent on physical appearance; specifically, weight. Even more than that, it’s women‘s happiness that depends on weight.
What pisses me off the most if that the movie goes out of its way to show that the male protagonist is falling for Nola quite early on. If this is a romance, and the hero is happy to take the heroine as she is, why the fuck was it necessary for the heroine to transform herself into one of those anorexic princesses in order to have the courage to meet the world?
Well, because the movie buys into the stereotype and encourages the audience to follow along–if Nola had been a size 16 or 18 at the end of the movie, then no one would have bought that she was triumphant over her ‘issues.’ She couldn’t have lorded if over the asshole bitch boss. She would not be admired, etc.
Fuck that noise.
It’s not, mind you, that she doesn’t deserve to triumph because she’s now thin–it’s that apparently she didn’t deserve it until she reached a certain weight/size.