The media all but brushed off Nicole Holofcener’s Friends with Money last month, probably too concerned with the recent spell of celebrity dirt, and because Holofcener avoids all the art school gimmicks that make Sundance darlings out of crap like Lucky Number Slevin. But journalists preoccupied with the outcome of Lindsay Lohan’s latest, Just My Luck, ought to take another look at the implications of Holofcener’s film, which contemplates, in the earthy rhythms of everyday life, most of the real truths underlying any given issue of People—from premature careerism (Lohan), to public breakdown (Britney Spears), to elitist arrogance (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Holofcener seriously confronts the modern woman’s precarious relationship with work, marriage, and spending. She refutes the easy chauvinism of the media’s made-up Mommy Wars for a more internal debate that has nothing to do with a long-gone feminist uprising and everything to do with America’s increasingly impersonal consumerist culture, fueled by the advertising dollars of a self-obsessed celebrity image. Right now, consumerism is winning big: The shallowness of female pop culture that Holofcener courageously tears down in her small efforts Lovely and Amazing and Friends with Money is just the thing Just My Luck and its obvious inspiration, HBO’s Sex and the City, successfully re-perpetuate—they are the cinematic equivalents of awards show gift bag parties, marketing off body image fixations and chic New York materialism as the latest Cinderella fantasy incarnate.
In American TV and movies, New York is no longer a city but a marketing device, a postcard of a lifestyle like L.A. or Miami Beach: Important, Successful, Fabulous, Sophisticated. Just My Luck replaces the NY brat pack of Sex and the City with three other giggly white girls, more innocent but every bit as deluded about what it means to live and date in a place torn apart by diverse backgrounds and competing interests. They spend their days hopping from each Starbucks to the next, mingling with the lower classes before returning to impossible ivory tower apartments. (Lohan’s character, a starter at a giant public relations firm, somehow lives in the same building as Sarah Jessica Parker.)
Part of the problem is that Hollywood has forgotten how to distinguish art from style. This conflation of soulful artistry and the aesthetic residue picked up by cheap imitators infected Undiscovered, a major studio’s preposterous vision of raw talent found in the streets, and it can be found everywhere in Just My Luck’s conspicuous homage to Hollywood’s old romantic comedies, which feels, as usual in these things, like a cheap boardroom idea. Lohan, as Ashley, tips her hat to the retro glamour of ‘50s screen beauties and a central disguised kiss on the dance floor tries to imitate the cutesy playfulness of Pillow Talk (naturally, the most erotic scene is a fully-clothed bubble fight).
But worse, Just My Luck’s throwback quickly goes from chintzy to rotten. The movie cashes in on Old Hollywood conservatism to pacify the Disney Channel crowd and distracts nostalgic hipsters with gaudy set design, yet it all the while refuses to confront the Eisenhower-era chauvinism rooted deep in its story’s heritage. Ashley doesn’t ever need to worry, because the world has graced her with inexplicable luck—not the luck of beating the odds, but the kind of consistently fantastical luck that marks a person as special: When Ashley needs to rush to get to work on time, every streetlight in her way suddenly turns green, and if an elevator is too full to enter, it’s only because it’s about to break down midway up the shaft.
This “luck” wraps Ashley—and later on, her geeky boyfriend Jake (Chris Pine)—like a protective blanket; meanwhile, minorities are forced out into the cold. Ashley enters frame being helped into a cab by her cheerfully subservient black doorman, who says “Miss Albright, no umbrella in this rain?” with the concern of a puppy fearful of being kicked. Or, at best, blacks fill the stereotypes of whores and pimps; in the former is record label executive Damon Phillips (Faizon Love), and in the latter a flirty co-worker of Jake’s after his newfound money. (African-Americans were legally integrated by the ‘60s, but contrary to George Clooney’s heartfelt Oscar stump speech this March, Tinseltown remains a remarkably racist institution.)
Just My Luck’s director, Donald Petrie, would probably rather play dumb about anything his movie might mean, but it doesn’t take much to see through its glorification of city life to the divide between Fifth Avenue mansions and overcrowded tenement life in the late 1800s. Which is to say that, ultimately, this is a form of blinding—from hard work, from social conflict, even from the enormous debt Ashley must accumulate on her platinum credit cards. In typical Disney Channel fashion, the producers would like to keep their viewers contained in a bubble for as long as they can take their money.