In more ways than one, it's a shame that a comedy like Phat Girlz even needs to exist. Part fantasy and part therapy session, the film offers a reassuring and occasionally cathartic answer to the oceans of media that assert "skinny bitches" as the standard of beauty. It should go without saying that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but Mo'Nique, the film's abrasive plus-sized star, says it often and loudly. Considering Mo'Nique's following, accumulated through her stand-up and television appearances, she no doubt has fans who find her empowering, but her vulgar brassiness becomes too much to take after five minutes. Shooting through what looks like her neighbor's 20-year-old camcorder, writer-director Nnegest Likké bolts the camera to the ground and yields the floor to her star, whose appetite for scenery proves as voracious as her appetite for a four-star hotel buffet.


Working behind the counter at a department store, where she logs time with her similarly sculpted best friend Kendra C. Johnson, Mo'Nique grouses about her sagging career and love life. An aspiring fashion designer, she's tired of the unflattering clothing foisted upon plus-sized women, but her boss keeps her away from the buyer (Eric Roberts) who can turn her stylish sketches into retail gold. In the meantime, her obsession with quick-fix dieting solutions pays dividends when she wins a metabolism-pill sweepstakes contest that sends her, Johnson, and her superficially pretty cousin (Joyful Drake) on a free trip to Palm Springs. Once there, Mo'Nique meets a hot Nigerian doctor (Jimmy Jean-Louis) whose culture values full-figured women over their anorexic counterparts.

With all the available men who might appreciate Mo'Nique and Johnson for who they are, it's both contrived and hypocritical that Likké would give the hotel over to the International Association Of Hot African Doctors, rather than their non-fantasy, real-world equivalent. Of course, the phat boyz of America already have their fantasy outlet in beer commercials, so maybe this movie is just redressing the balance. While it's a pleasure to watch the likeable Johnson open up and come out of her shell, Phat Girlz belongs to Mo'Nique, a grating, belligerent woman who alternates self-deprecating fat jokes with drama-queen meltdowns and simpering pleas for acceptance. Save it for the talk-show circuit, please.