Critically speaking, casting Paris Hilton in your movie is the kiss of death. Because of who she is, and where she comes from, the majority of reviewers are destined to walk into "The Hottie and the Nottie" having already written their review in their head. It's cool to hate Hilton, or so it seems, but judging a film before seeing even a frame of it simply because of a cast member is biased, unfair and frankly unprofessional for those who make a living (or a serious hobby) out of being a critic. And, at the risk of going against the obvious popular majority, it should be stated up front that "The Hottie and the Nottie" isn't half-bad. In fact, for long sections, it's actually better than anyone could have expected.
It's been twenty years since Nate Cooper (Joel David Moore) first fell in love with the beautiful Cristabel Abbott (Paris Hilton). Of course, they were six years old at the time, but even as an adult and after a series of failed relationships, he hasn't been able to get her off his mind. In a crazy spur-of-the-moment decision, Nate leaves behind his dead-end existence in Maine and treks out to Los Angeles in the hopes of seeing his longtime crush again. When the two of them do meet, Nate is surprised to find that Cristabel fondly still remembers him and actually could be interested in being more than platonic pals. There's just one catch: she has made a vow to stay single until her woefully unattractive best friend, June Phigg (Christine Lakin)also a classmate of Nate's from back in the first gradefinds a nice guy of her own.
"The Hottie and the Nottie" is far from a perfect film, but then, even director Tom Putnam and screenwriter Heidi Ferrer would probably agree to that. For one, little story details are hastily overlooked; in the world in which these characters live, a lot of them talk about their jobs but are never seen physically going to them, while it isn't explained how Nate can afford traveling across the country when it would appear by his junky car that he doesn't have much money. And, for two, not all of the comic relief works; the semi-sidekick to Nate, Arno (The Greg Wilson), is more annoying than funny, and thankfully only has a few scenes.
Leaving behind these quibbles, "The Hottie and the Nottie" is almost infectiously likable and really quite sweet. The ultimate outcome can be predicted by the thirty-minute mark, but the way in which the film arrives at this point is refreshingly thoughtful and undeniably romantic. Save for a few comic moments at the onset revolving around June's appearance, she is treated not as a joke or a fool, but as an intelligent and decidedly headstrong young woman who recognizes her unfortunate lot in life. When she starts to get work done and slowly transforms into a swan, the viewer holds their breath in and grumpily awaits for the same old shallow convention of an ugly girl who only finds her mate by changing her looks. Fortunately, director Tom Putnam and writer Heidi Ferrer recognize this themselves, and give Nate a tender moment of self-realization where he sees how wrong he was to not view June from the start for the wonderful person she was underneath the exterior. Meanwhile, Cristabel isn't portrayed as a brainless unobtainable sex object, but as an understanding and sympathetic person who cares about Nate's happiness, even if it ultimately isn't with her.
Joel David Moore (2007's "Hatchet
") is tall and lanky and kind of nebbish, but he's also ideally cast as protagonist Nate Cooper. This is not the typical vision of a hunky male star who got the part because of his looks; Moore is more down-to-earth and normal, and because of that more accessible. As the gorgeous Cristabel, Paris Hilton (2005's "House of Wax
") has a long way to go to become what most would call a solid thespian, but she is nonetheless radiant onscreen and seems to be having a good time essaying a more well-rounded character than she is usually given. What she sometimes lacks in selling a line of dialogue, she makes up for in charisma. The true star of the film, though, is Christine Lakin (a cast member of the '90s sitcom "Step by Step" and more recently in 2007's "Georgia Rule
"), who steals all of her scenes as June Phigg. Lakin emanates such an unabashed warmth, goodness and, yes, beauty, that she refuses to turn June into an easy punchline. Off the evidence here, she deserves to be a big star.
As "The Hottie and the Nottie" moves toward its conclusion, set at a costume party, the film touches upon a number of romantic comedy clichési.e. the misunderstanding; the "other guy" who isn't as virtuous as he seemsbut these, too, are dealt with in a more mature manner than is normally the case. The actions that June, Nate and Cristabel make are empowering and signal real growth from within, a key flashback to their school days is touching without going schmaltzy, and the last scene is joyous and heartwarming and well-earned in the same way that the ending of 1984's classic "Sixteen Candles" is. By this point, the viewer genuinely cares about the characters and the central romance; they deserve their "happily-ever-after." Curmudgeons who will base their opinions on the film out of preconceived notions need not apply, but everyone else will be pleasantly surprised. "The Hottie and the Nottie" is frothy entertainment, but, like June and Cristabel, there's more gravitas
underneath the surface than meets the eye.