Uptown Girls (2003) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Jesse Spencer, Donald Faison, Marley Shelton, Heather Locklear
Director: Boaz Yakin
Screenplay: Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik, Lisa Davidowitz
Review published February 8, 2004
In 1989, Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) sees his first screenplay hit the big screen, in the misguided comic book adaptation, The Punisher. In a strange twist of fate, fourteen years later, Yakin is The Punisher! Uptown Girls is a film so horrendously inept in every department, it actually defies description. I've seen many bad movies before, usually so clichéd or predictable that they are impossible to find entertaining. This movie goes beyond normal bad movie conventions; It delves into uncharted badness that makes you how the hell anybody would see any merit whatsoever in wanting to bring even a single frame of this travesty up to the silver screen. It's a film so sloppy, so choppy, and so unfathomably illogical, it's only a breath of inspiration away from being an art film. There isn't a breath here, so yes, it's just an astonishingly bad movie that couldn't have made any less sense if it featured a man in a chicken suit holding a spatula and performing a beatbox in every scene. Come to think of it, it might have made the film much, much better.
Murphy (Clueless, 8 Mile) plays Molly Gunn, daughter of a deceased famous rock star who must find a job for the first time in her life when she needs the money. She tries a variety of places, but none of them seem to be suited to her ways, until she lands a job as the nanny of a precocious and neurotic 9-year-old girl named Ray. Meanwhile, Molly falls for an aspiring musician, Neal, but can't seem to find the right footing in both her work or personal life.
The first knock against Uptown Girls is that it follows too close to the formula of About a Boy to think this wasn't green-lighted just to try to capitalize on the success of that film. Both films feature immature adults and smart, but maladjusted kids who all come of age through their interactions with each other. They follow the same patterns and even have the same climax, a child performance in front of a crowd that by some miraculous fashion, ties up all of the loose ends in a crowd-pleasing finale.
Then, there's the horrible dialogue. There are plenty of bad movies out there that have weak screenplays, but Uptown Girls has an inordinate amount of annoying catchphrases (like "Nyooos Fuh-lassshh!") meant to be cute, but tend to grate one's nerves more than anything else. Even common phrases are over-abused; I swear there was a five-minute stretch where several characters utter the phrase, "Oh...my...God...". It's hard to fathom how it took three people to write this script, spend so much effort in bolstering the characters up, and only succeed in making you want to strangle them, oh so slowly.
As irritating as the relationship is between Molly and Ray, it's not nearly as frustrating to follow as the on-again, off-again antics of Molly and her heartthrob love interest, Neal. Without much time spent together, they are in the sack, and before they have even established a relationship, both of them have planned break-up speeches. Does a night of casual sex really require a formal dissolution of the "partnership"? Then, just as soon as you have forgotten all about their "dissolved union," they behave as if they have been seeing each other all along, although we have no reason to think they have something going on. The relationship yo-yos back and forth with no rhyme or reason, save to deliver ersatz moments of drama, culminating in silly plot-turns like Neal's recording of a song destined to be played on a commercial for a future Target department store linen sale, "Sheets of Egyptian Cotton."
Brittany Murphy is thoroughly unappealing in her role, although it's not necessarily her fault. She is stuck in clownish, revealing outfits, all of which seem to be designed for us to see through the clothing to reveal as much of her body as possible. Every outfit is meant to show cleavage, which might have proven successful if Murphy hadn't dwindled her weight down to an almost unhealthy looking level. I was waiting for Murphy and Fanning to have a scene where they hopped on a playground seesaw, just to see whose feet would be the ones not touching the ground.
Perhaps the hardest thing to understand is exactly what demographic the creators of this misfire product was trying to reach. Much of the situations are too adult (lots of sexuality on display) for allowing young children to view, although the appearance of Fanning, as well as the feel-good marketing, might suggest that Uptown Girls is worthwhile family fare. On the other hand, much of the movie is also too juvenile for most adults to be able to be entertained by. It certainly should have little appeal to anyone who is male, with its standard chick-flick music montages where Murphy bounces around shaking her head, sappy dramatic bits, and yet another shaggy-haired underwear model-type male romantic lead, whose best personality trait for women is the fact that he says as little as he wears.
Even the almost universally appealing Dakota Fanning (i am sam) can't make her awful character sympathetic. Watch how cute it is to see a little girl act like a bitchy grown-up, waving a middle finger around like a flag. Her neuroses are out-of-control, while also not knowing where the boundaries lie. Watch Ray chastise Molly for touching one of her stuffed animals, while also not seeming to mind when Molly's pet pig traipses around on her room. Scratch your head as Ray must wipe the mouth of every brand new bottle of Evian she drinks before sipping, but allows Molly to sleep in her bed just after she has submerged herself head-to-toe in a creek filled with raw sewage. Even well-adjusted people might have a problem with allowing that.
It's also one of the sloppiest films you'll be likely to see, with some of egregiously flagrant film flubs. Almost all movies, even the great ones, have their share of mistakes, but Uptown Girls has several doozies that make an already bewildering viewing even less enjoyable. The electricity in Molly's apartment has been cut off, yet her television still works. She can't pay her phone bill, yet her answering machine is still getting calls. Then in the most crucial scene of the movie, Neal shows off his uncanny ability to get more than one instrument to play from a mere guitar, and even more impressive, be able to continue singing and playing while his mouth is closed and hands are clapping.
Uptown Girls is not a story, it's packaged goods for simple-minded audience reaction. The producers have researched those elements that make girls laugh, swoon, or cry, and cram as many of these visual and aural stimuli in as they can. Orphans, neglected children, cute pet pigs, handsome musicians, adorable kids performing ballet, dancing to sad songs, dancing to happy songs, pratfalls, and the never-ending search for happiness are what's on the agenda, and nothing more. What they didn't bother to do is to link all of these images and sounds into anything cohesive, content to keep pushing the same buttons to elicit a response in place of a real story or honest characterizations. If you're the kind of person that cries at sappy commercials, you've found a movie crafted with you in mind. Almost everyone else will cringe, gag, and convulse from the sheer ineptitude of this mawkish, manipulative fiasco. A truly loathsome experience on every level.
©2004 Vince Leo