Uptown Girls

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Movie Review by Lisa Henshall

Starring: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Donald Adeosun Faison

Director: Boaz Yakin

This is a delightful comedy drama which manages to raise itself a little above the usual Hollywood fare, due to its combination of good characterisation in the screenplay and wonderful performances from both Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning.

The story could have been played out as another clichéd comedy of personality clashes. Orphaned as a child when her rock star parents die in a plane crash, wealthy ‘it girl’ Molly (Brittany Murphy), now 22 and the toast of New York society, learns that her inheritance has been embezzled. Forced to get a job, she becomes nanny to the daughter of music exec, Roma Schleine (Heather Locklear). Roma’s daughter Ray (Dakota Fanning) is a precocious 8 year-old who acts like she’s 40 and gets through nannies in the time it takes for them to say hello. Even the films tagline “They’re about to teach each other how to act their age” sounds hopelessly corny.

However, Julia Dahl’s assured screenplay makes this more of a drama than a comedy. She manages to flesh out the back-story and give the characters space to breathe. Boaz Yakim, director of FRESH (Samuel L Jackson) and REMEMBER THE TITANS (Denzel Washington), knows when to emphasise the dramatic elements and when to relax and play it light. The editing and cinematography also make New York seem a different city at times.

Brittany Murphy manages to bring a sweetness and naivety to her character of Molly, which stops us from becoming irritated by her. It would be easy to judge her as a spoilt brat, but Murphy’s strength is in making us care and realising Molly’s desire to stay young is in a bid to never grow up and forget her parent’s memory. Dakota Fanning is remarkable as the self-assured Ray (Lorraine) and we quickly realise her anally retentive attitude is a deep-rooted survival instinct because her mother has little time for her and her father is in a coma. She has systematically cut herself off from her feelings and taken control of every aspect of her life in a bid to grow-up as quickly as possible because she sees little benefit in being a child.

Unfortunately, the supporting characters aren’t fleshed out nearly enough: Ray’s mother is too black and white as the unfeeling music exec, Molly’s party-hard friend Huey (Donald Faison) lacks depth, her yoga-mad uptight best friend Ingrid (Marley Shelton) turns into a walking cliché, and the British musician and token love-interest, Neal (played inexplicably by Australian newcomer Jesse Spencer) is sweet looking but somehow unbelievable in the role. They all feel rather one-dimensional, but luckily their appearances are sporadic and the film belongs to Brittany and Dakota.

3 out of 6 stars