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Uptown Girls

  uptown girls
Dakota Fanning and Brittany Murphy bound through an unnecessary montage.

© 2003, MGM
All Rights Reserved

Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy) is a free-spirited socialite, left behind with gobs of money by her dead rock star parents. When her fortune is embezzled by her accountant, Molly is left with nothing, and is forced to take a job to make ends meet. She takes employment as a nanny to Ray (Dakota Fanning, "I Am Sam"), a spoiled, neglected 8 year old, who is dealing with her own drama, including being left behind by her mother (Heather Locklear), and watching her comatose father slowly waste away just down the hall from her. Ray is high strung and impenetrable, but Molly's easy ways begin to erode the little girl's exterior, just as Molly's life begins to crumble with a failed relationship with a rock star, and her friends' (Donald Faison and Marley Shelton) apathy towards her lifestyle.

Sounds like a lot of story, doesn't it?

It took three credited screenwriters to bring "Uptown Girls" (IMDb listing) to theaters. Even without that information presented in the opening reel, one could easily perceive the mangling of the filmmaking process that is "Uptown Girls." Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodink and Lisa Davisowitz all took a shot at bringing a script called "Molly Gunn" to the screen. You can easily see all the writers' influences: taking Molly through a journey of life lessons and self-discovery, skirting the R-rating, and generally making an adult movie. Enter director Boaz Yakin, the once proud filmmaker behind the 1994 indie smash "Fresh," and now a generally disregarded big studio hack, last seen with the reprehensible "Remember The Titans."

Yakin has no time for deeper themes, and no patience for character and structure. He has taken the already schizophrenic screenplay and, through his own bizarre design, made "Molly Gunn" ten times worse. Gone are Molly's quirks and rationalizations, gone are the important placement of Molly's friends and confidants, gone are Ray's motivations for the way she behaves, and gone is the old title, replaced by the more inviting-to-the-mall-crowd "Uptown Girls." What is left is a studio film that uses silly-string to hold together the hundreds of ideas put forth in the film's development. Not one single idea presented by Yakin is seen to its logical end, with the director choosing to hurdle any jumps in logic and continuity with a pop song montage, or easy outs like having Fanning look sad or Murphy smile that million-watt smile she has. Studio intervention to change the mature "Gunn" script into the "Girls" pap is obvious. It takes a hand far removed from the actual production to edit a film to contain both a comedic suicide scene and head-over-heels pratfalls. And who else would lop off crucial character development between Gunn and her rocker boyfriend (or any friend for that matter) to make room for Mark McGrath and Dave Navarro cameos? Yakin is coming off the $100 million grossing "Titans," so why is he allowing this to happen to his film? I hope he enjoyed his directing fee, because the "Girls" that is going out into theaters is the type of picture that ends careers.

"Uptown Girls" ends up a film not wanting to be about everything, but a film that is about everything. It is a shapeless nightmare presented in rose-colored wrapping paper, and a depressing reminder of what happens when films are fussed over way too much. It purports rather brazenly that it's a fairy tale. But what kind of a fairy tale contains a child with "hilarious" OCD, or a lead character who pressures celibates into sex? I must've skipped those chapters in "Cinderella."

I've always been a supporter of Brittany Murphy's work, but "Girls" represents the bottom of her barrel. Murphy is attempting to break away from her typical role: the young, fidgety girl with the personality of pop rocks with a Coke chaser. Murphy's Gunn is a quieter woman, comfy in the life she's always known, while struggling with her newfound poverty and responsibility. Murphy plays Gunn exactly like this, even when the final film awkwardly shifts away from Molly's story to include more Ray. The blame cannot be placed on Murphy for her performance's inconsistencies. She tries hard to form an adult character out of Molly Gunn, but the brutal choppiness of the picture won't let her finish the job.

After showing such promise in her "I Am Sam" performance, Dakota Fanning has been reduced to the role of trained seal for "Girls." Fanning's semi-natural acting chops have been kidnapped. Her performance in "Girls" is all too mechanical, as if five acting coaches were behind the camera trying to keep their marionette strings from getting tangled. Fanning's Ray is one tough cookie, and if you can get around the fact that she's a brat regardless of her situation, she could very well be likable by the film's end. Like Molly, there is much texture and nuance to Ray that has been discarded in the final product, leaving Ray obnoxious without much provocation.

If you love Brittany Murphy or the idea of New York fairy tales, do both a favor and skip this film at all costs.

Filmfodder Grade: F








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