Uptown Girls (December 30/03)
Brittany Murphy seems to have fallen into the trap that a lot of just-starting-out actresses seem to fall into. She's abandoned edgier fare like Girl, Interrupted and Don't Say a Word in favor of inoffensive PG-13 material like Just Married and now Uptown Girls. Though Uptown Girls isn't really a bad movie, it is an incredibly mediocre one - exacerbated by the simplistic screenplay (which, by the way, took three people to write!)
Murphy stars as Molly Gunn, the daughter of a famous '70s singer that died when she was a little kid. Molly's been living off his royalties ever since, but after her manager runs off with all her cash, she's forced to find a job. Fortunately for her, a friend (played by Scrubs' Donald Faison) sets her up with a position as a nanny. Her charge is Ray (Dakota Fanning), an eight-year-old control freak who needs to learn how to have fun every now and then (could these two be any more opposite? Oh, the hilarity!)
It's an incredibly formulaic setup that would be more at home in a made-for-TV movie starring Patricia Heaton and that little girl from Seventh Heaven. Despite some engaging performances (particularly by Faison, reuniting with his Clueless co-star Murphy), the film never becomes anything more than an inoffensive time waster. There's not a single plot twist in the movie that we can't see coming a mile away, and by the time the end rolls around, every single story element has been neatly wrapped up in a little bow. The most obvious example of this is Molly's attempt to find a job that she's actually good at; after designing a jacket for her rock star boyfriend, she's approached by musicians (ie Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray) who want her to create clothing for them. The way Molly falls into her dream job is reminiscent of the manner in which Tori Spelling's Donna just happened to be a natural fashion designer on Beverly Hills, 90210. And that's exactly the sort of manner in which the film concludes the various other plot strands.
There are a few charming moments in the film - such as when Molly persuades the finicky Ray to try a hot dog - but they're few and far between instances of blandness. The performances are decent, I suppose, but Fanning shows absolutely no restraint in playing this miniature tyrant (the explanation for why she acts this way is just as cheesy as everything else in the film). And Murphy is fine as the free-spirited and spoiled Molly, though this is far from her best work.
Uptown Girls is perfect entertainment for those that like their stories predictable and safe, while everyone else would probably be better off watching a Full House rerun on TBS.