Written by Gina Wendkos, The Perfect Man is the story of a single mom and her two daughters. Jean Hamilton (Heather Locklear) is fortysomething, perky and attractive. She's a baker by trade, and she's evidently skilled enough with dough, yeast and icing tube that she can find work anywhere. And she's apparently been everywhere except for those places she'll relocate to shortly. Her M.O. is as follows: Move to town, get a job, get involved with the first guy she sees, get dumped, move away. Sometimes Jean's liaisons produce offspring as they have with daughters Holly (Duff), who is 16, and Zoe (Aria Wallace), who is 7. We assume these girls have different fathers, but the picture never bothers to make that clear.
Jean's dating and moving habits are starting to wreak havoc with Holly's teenage years. Holly has bought a really cute strapless dress, and she'd love to stay in the same town long enough to wear it to a dance. Alas, Mom gets dumped again, and so the traveling music is back on the stereo. This time Jean takes her girls to a New York City that exists only in the minds of Hollywood writers and directors who haven't the whiff of a clue how working people actually live. An old acquaintance arranges a job for Jean making cakes at a bakery, and without even consulting a real estate agent, Mom manages to land a spacious and well-appointed Brooklyn apartment a person of her means could never flipping afford. But I wax agitated.
Most new kids at new schools get almost totally ignored until they become suicidal. Not Holly. She meets her new bestest of best friends Amy (Vanessa Lengies) on the school steps the very first day for the reason that the script requires that Holly have not just a best friend but this one in particular. In first period, the first day, Holly meets Adam (Ben Feldman) the cutest and most sensitive boy in the whole world. And so, well, darn it, she really wants to stay in Brooklyn at her new school that's just about as much like most urban schools as Death Valley is like Mount Everest. That's why Holly is so worried when Jean agrees to go out with Lenny (Mike O'Malley), the bread guy at the bakery. Lenny is to the world of geeks as Tiger Woods is to the world of golf. I rush to credit this clumsy flick for actually making Lenny a pretty good guy. But in so doing the picture forgets its own genetic premise that Mom always gets dumped, not that Mom always hooks up with geeks. Lenny would never dump Mom, and Holly could stay in Hollywood Brooklyn forever. Only the plot requires that Holly interfere.
Amy has this really cool uncle named Ben (Chris Noth), a prosperous restaurateur and all around stud. A more sensible teen would just try to get Mom and Ben to date!!!! But our Holly has a more ludicrous plan. Instead of introducing Mom and Ben, Holly begins to send her mother flowers, cards and emails from a "secret admirer" named "Ben," who just happens to look exactly like Ben. Any normal person would find all this impersonal contact creepy enough to contact a nearby law enforcement officer. Instead, Hollywood Mom eats it up like leftover cake icing. Where Holly actually hopes to go with this fictionalized romance is clear only in un-filmed pages of the script or scenes abandoned on the cutting-room floor. Holly actually concludes that maybe Mom should meet the real Ben only in the picture's final minutes, about two squirming hours after everybody else in the theater knows that's exactly where the story's heading.
There's so very much about The Perfect Man that makes you shiver. The first of my top two moments arrives in an email Jean writes to "Ben" about her baking ambitions. Don't get me wrong. Cooking is an art, and culinary skill is a significant achievement. But Mom's stated dreams have all the emotional purchasing power of a Mardi Gras doubloon. Near the film's end Jean shares with her daughters a series of greeting-card profundities best described as Deep Thoughts by Heather Locklear. Throughout this mess I identified entirely with a 10-year-old in the front row who proclaimed over and over, "I want to go home."