Generously proportioned Jazmin Biltmore (get it ... built more?) is frustrated: Society wants her to be thin; friends and strangers alike mock her size; and she can't get anybody to take her fun, stylish fashion designs for large women seriously. Fate tosses her a meaty bone ... a trip to a Palm Springs resort where she meets a hot Nigerian doctor, who loves every cubic inch of her. The twist is, in Africa, the "thick madames" are prized.
Phat Girlz marks the directorial debut of Nnegest Likké, a Californian of Ethiopian heritage, who also penned the script. Comedienne, actress and fat-advocate Mo'Nique sashays easily into the role of Jazmin, a woman who embraces her size even as she fights against it.
Part vulgar comedy, part Cinderella romance and part polemic, Phat Girlz lacks a sure footing and suffers from poor pacing. Oddly, the film skimps on Jazmin's triumph ... the launch of her fashion line (Wait! Those are great clothes!), and too often, the film betrays its humble budget and newbie director. But when Mo'Nique is on, the laughs are easy and the jabs pointed.
When examining size discrimination, Likké skirts some obvious gender and class issues. We never see or hear from any big guys, and it's telling that Jazmin's fantasy men and her African doctor are glistening, hard-bodied pin-ups. They're viewed as worthy objects of desire, while similarly built women are dismissed as vapid toothpicks. And while it's great that in Nigeria heavy women are prized, that proclivity can't be divorced from the reality that fat equals wealthy in a country wracked with poverty ... a dynamic that undermines some of the film's arguments about thinness being strictly a pursuit of self-loathing and vanity.
Yet it's hard to fault Likké and Mo'Nique for calling foul on a culture that at times openly disdains and dismisses heavy folks. In an unintended display of how the world thinks thin, during the preview I attended, teeny-tiny promotional tank tops were offered to the audience comprised primarily of full-figured women. Their surprise and mock outrage was a perfect set-up for a film that demands we honor all sizes.