The first annual Mary-Kate and Ashley film festival

It’s a form of celebrity love that’s time has come

At the Olsen Twin Film Festival, there was a zero-tolerance ban on eating-disorder jokes.

At the Olsen Twin Film Festival, there was a zero-tolerance ban on eating-disorder jokes.

Peter Thompson is a freelance writer based in Carson City.

If you could lay every official Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen product end to end, line up every videotape copy of How the West Was Fun, every paperback book; all the backpacks, notebooks, body wear, shoes, optical frames, makeup and plus-size sportswear (um … huh?) in a line, it could probably stretch from here to Neptune and back, but absolutely nothing would be made any clearer.

After nine albums worth of music, including three “greatest hits” releases of “toe-tapping super-fun music,” the phenomena still doesn’t hold enough water to wet the tip of a toothpick.

My 13-year-old sister-in-law, who was once a member of the Official Mary-Kate and Ashley Fan Club, has no idea why she even joined in the first place.

“They were just kind of there,” she mumbles, her eyes growing kind of dim at the recollection. “And they were twins.”

An intriguing critique, for as Roger Ebert once remarked of a classic film, “No one making Casablanca thought they were making a great movie. It was simply another Warner Bros. release.”

Still, while simultaneously doing as much to enrich American film heritage as a pick-up truck full of Jim Varneys, the mini-moguls have somehow managed to parlay the catchphrase “You got it dude!” from one of the most inane sitcoms ever stuffed inside a television into a cultural influence to rival the Roman Empire, siphoning an estimated $1 billion a year from consumers’ pockets with the sheer immensity of their assorted crap.

With that same spirit of mystification, the horror-curiosity of any half-sane cinephile, and the hope for some kind of closure, I rented a dozen of their movies and commandeered my in-law’s TV room, organizing the First Annual Mary-Kate and Ashley Film Festival.

Attendance was sparse.

For an even more authentic experience, a signed picture of the twins had been obtained from eBay for just over seven bucks.

A zero tolerance ban on eating-disorder or drug-addiction jokes was announced sternly before the lights dimmed, though it was duly acknowledged that as a preteen, Mary-Kate often cited “salad” as one of her favorite foods.

First up was a 1997 straight-to-video film from the popular Trenchcoat Twins series, the Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley: The Case of the Volcano Mystery. Without giving away any of the plot twists, all that can be said is that there is a volcano. Together with their dog Clue, the girls manage to solve “any crime by dinnertime,” in this case meaning a total running time of exactly 30 minutes, a short film, but enough time to claim its first victim, a half-soused friend who almost immediately fell asleep on the couch.

Next up is another Trenchcoat Twins flick, The Hotel something or other. Quickly, it becomes plausible that the entire series may have been shot on a single day. A mix of home-video quality production and all the bathos needed to power true cult status, the Film Fest soon becomes a Fast-Forward Fest. At full Film Festival volume, the girls’ voices become dangerously annoying, like listening to Tony Danza and Sylvester Stallone debating who’s the dumber with their mouths full of Lincoln logs and helium. The Film Fest is temporarily muted.

What was needed was some drama. Some structure. Some slick editing. Something like 2004’s sophisticated $14 million blockbuster New York Minute, a movie which a film critic named Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle saw fit to rave as “a charming zestful romp.”

With a definite, coherent plot, competent editing, and over 90 minutes of mildly suggestive (taking a shower with a snake) sexual tension, ethnic stereotypes, and poor Eugene Levy being utterly hapless and outsmarted, the “charming, zestful romp” through the Big Apple produced something that can only rightly be described as a kind of post-movie “jet lag.”

It’s as though the doe-eyed duo has preyed on the brain as it has preyed on the culture, dumping some kind of hypnotic toxin in the process.

Double Double Toil and Trouble, When In Rome

“Whatever happened to predictability: the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV?”

It all becomes a blur. The anomaly remains, but like Hummer limousines, still exists. How did they do it? How is it that such vigorously bland sludge can be tossed at the public and gobbled up with anything but complete self-loathing?

Mary-Kate and Ashley have somehow ridden into pure magnate-hood in the same league as Carnegie and Rockefeller. They have built their empire on the charisma of tireless cuteness, the diffusion of monotony, and by turning themselves into living, breathing brands. To be sure, they are horrible actors—mere artistic teases who would be challenged to play each other. Their films do nothing more than bridge the gap between movies, commercials and self-worship. And no, Uncle Chester, just because they’re 18 now doesn’t increase the chance that they’re going to have sex with you anytime soon. So throw away that calendar you’ve been keeping for the last few years.

Even Mary-Kate and Ashley’s company, Dualstar, sounds vaguely creepy, like some kind of deep-space death ship from a galaxy of pod people. Perhaps they are pod people. Perhaps, 50 years from now, they will be looked upon as 5-foot titans who stayed committed to their personal vision and refused to die on the vine.

The First Annual Mary-Kate and Ashley Film Fest began to fizzle after New York Minute, and by the time Holiday in the Sun began to roll, I was, admittedly, the only one left standing.

Plans for the Second Annual Mary-Kate and Ashley Film Fest are already in the works. This time, I hope to rent a theatre, or at least one of those big rent-to-own projection TVs.

Some anthropologists travel to the ends of strange maps, seeking out new intricacies of foreign cultures. There exist in this country today two extraterrestrially cute near-midgets who can buy and sell me many times over. It’s as though two young girls had opened a lemonade stand one day and actually owned the word “lemon” the next.

It’s the new American Dream.

Horatio Alger would be proud—completely weirded out, but proud.