Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Boaz Yakin

Cast: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Jesse Spencer, Marley Shelton, Donald Adeosun Faison, Heather Locklear

MPAA Rating:  (for sexual content and language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 8/15/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

It's hard to live a privileged life, or so Uptown Girls wants us to believe. In most cases, that kind of misrepresentation should arose a little provocation, but here, with the material's inherent innocence and sweetness, it can be excused as naÔve fallacy. The distortion is also downplayed because it is the least offensive thing in the movie, which works neither as comedy in its first half nor melodrama in its second half because it is intent on playing the lower levels of both. You can feel the screenwriters run out of ideas early on. The formula of the movie is the usual clashing of mismatched personalities, but instead of allowing the characters to naturally conflict for laughs, the script relies too much on physical humor and misses the point of having two incompatible characters. And once screenwriters Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik, and Lisa Davidowitz (that magic number three again) want to play the movie straight, they force circumstances upon their characters that are meant to heighten the drama but instead end up making it shallow. All of this force-feeding is only emphasized by director Boaz Yakin, who instills the movie with unnecessary stylistic choices.

Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy) is the orphaned daughter of a famous rock star who has had her life taken care of her since the age of eight when her parents died in a plane crash. For her twenty-second birthday, her friends have set up a surprise party at an exclusive club. There she meets two people: a British musician named Neal Fox (Jesse Spencer, whose job for a good part of the movie seems to be to walk around with his shirt off) and Lorraine (Dakota Fanning), the eight-year-old daughter of music manager Roma Schleine (Heather Locklear, looking the part). Molly tries to win Neal's attention and affections by luring him back to her apartment where the electricity has been shut off. That doesn't stop Molly, who lights a few candles and gets him to break his commitment to stay away from romantic relationship while trying to remain sober. After a night together, Molly wants him to leave but finds herself devastated when he finally does, leaving her naked and mirroring the cartoon that's on television. Wait, wasn't her power disconnected? Anyway, it seems the man in charge of Molly's money has run off, and now she has to find a job to pay the bills.

Eventually, Molly finds herself in the position of nanny for Lorraine. This is when the movie should be finding its niche, but instead, it relies on two often tried but only occasionally true comic views: a kid saying grown-up things is funny and a grown-up who falls down or otherwise injures oneself a lot is also funny. In this case, only one of those is true; pratfalls are the movie's comic hemlock. It's apparently not enough that Molly is inept at living a normal life, but she also has to be clumsy. And not just clumsyóclumsier than you or I (and I imagine myself a pretty competent klutz) or anyone else. One scene has her baking cookies, only to have the batch burst into flames in the oven, and when she attempts to put the fire out with a rag, the rag catches fire. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the physical comedy starts when Molly first picks up Lorraine from school on her first day on the job when the heel of her shoe randomly breaks, sending her to the ground. It's as if the screenwriters are setting themselves up for disappointment. Brittany Murphy takes the falls and hits with good humor, but the rest of her performance fluctuates between understated and overstated (her looks of disbelief too closely resemble a deer caught in headlights).

Lorraine's gimmick, however, works for the most part, and much of it is thanks to Dakota Fanning's performance. She's very good here, with an amusing and believable dry delivery. Her character is fine on her own, but the screenwriters are convinced that surrounding her with a sad life will give her some resonance. The problem is the part of her life that could be in need of repair is her relationship with her virtually absent mother. Instead, a comatose father is introduced for one of two possibilities. Inevitably he will either recover, in which case there will be a happy reunion scene, or dies, in which case there will be scenes of downtrodden angst followed by at least one uplifting, hopeful, scene. Considering the movie's tear-jerking intentions, you can guess which one will unfold. At the end, the screenwriters bring backówhat we now realize isóbookend narration, which just lays on the mush one layer thicker. Throughout the proceedings, director Yakin uses unnecessarily complicated or ostentatiously consistent transitions that make each scene bleed directly into the next. The results are just too cute and too precious for their own good.

A lot of this could be forgiven, but on an even more basic level, Uptown Girls has a problem in its dramatic progression. In the end, I do not believe Molly has undergone any significant change or at least any that makes me see her in a different light. And I think Lorraine will still be plagued by the feelings her lifestyle and the lifestyle of her mother spawn. The movie is convinced otherwise, of course, and gives them both moments at the end that are supposed to make us believe that they've made real, legitimate breakthroughs. I know Lorraine has learned the value of contemporary dance by the end, but I really wouldn't call that a breakthrough.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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