Until I saw this steaming crap-fest, I didn’t realize what a fine film the Brittany Murphy-Ashton Kutcher vehicle Just Married was — strictly in relative terms, of course.
I have no idea what anyone involved in this shapeless mess thought they were doing, but whatever it was, surely what they ended up with cannot have been what they intended. And if it was, then screenwriters Allison Jacobs (no prior offenses), Julia Dahl (TV’s Party of Five), Mo Ogrodnik (writer/director of something called Ripe, which would be a nicely descriptive title here), Lisa Davidowitz (another first-time offender) and director Boaz Yakin need to learn another trade — preferably one that doesn’t impact other people.
Based on this movie’s advertising, the number of times that Murphy takes a lame pratfall (always landing unimpressively out of frame) and the presence of a cute little pig painted with nearly as much skanky eye makeup as the movie’s star, I’m going out on a limb here and deducing that Uptown Girls is intended as a comedy. Elementary, my dear Watson, huh? The only problem with such Holmesian reasoning is that comedies usually contain laughs — or at least obvious attempts at them.
Perhaps the scene where Murphy talks the downright creepy Dakota Fanning into spending some time with her comatose father (a possible new staple of the genre?), only to be followed by the man’s immediate death (I told you Fanning was creepy) was meant to be a “laff riot.” Or maybe the plot contrivance where Murphy’s singer/songwriter boyfriend (Jesse Spencer, whose agent must have paid big bucks to keep his character’s identity off the cast list that appears on the Internet Movie Database) spends some quality horizontal time with Fanning’s record-producer mom (Heather Locklear) a couple rooms down from coma-beleagured dad in order to secure a recording contract is another attempted knee-slapper.
Now, I could accept the idea that Spencer’s absurd pop tune “Sheets of Egyptian Cotton” was supposed to be funny — or at least an ironic comment on the state of pop music — but nothing about the movie suggests that we’re supposed to respond to the tune in open-mouthed wonderment. One thing is unfortunately certain, however: Uptown Girls is convinced that its story of suddenly broke, spoiled rock ‘n’ roll princess Molly Gunn (Murphy) learning from and teaching life-lessons to emotionally distant 8-year-old Ray Schleine (Fanning) is a heart-warming assault on the tear ducts. The problem is that it’s nigh on impossible to care what happens to either character.
Murphy seems to think she’s still in 8 Mile and Fanning comes across like she’s playing the Daveigh Chase role in The Ring — except that Fanning makes Chase seem positively cuddly by comparison. She’s spookily reminiscent of the little twin girls in Kubrick’s The Shining (which the screenplay references), and I would not have been surprised to have heard her say, “Hello, Molly. Come and play with me, Molly — forever and ever and ever.”
Several people have likened Fanning to a diminutive Bette Davis, and the comparison is not inapt. She has a moment in Uptown Girls where she gives Murphy a good slap, which stacks up nicely against Davis giving Miriam Hopkins a sound shaking in Old Acquaintance. Indeed, I think a reworking of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Fanning in the Davis role and, say, Emily Osment in the Crawford one might be a smart bet for some forward-thinking producer.
Alas, Boaz Yakin and company are anything but forward-thinking, and instead of hitting us with her serving up a budgie luncheon (as in Baby Jane), they force-feed us a mind-numbingly bad ballet recital that obviously aims for the kind of big, warm moment that climaxes the Weitz’s Brothers’ About a Boy — and misses that target by at least a couple of continents. Oh, well. I suppose Uptown Girls is a fitting climax to the summer that gave us From Justin to Kelly and Gigli.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke