Uptown Girls

on August 15, 2003 by Francesca Dinglasan
As fluffy and frilly as the designer frocks that Brittany Murphy wears throughout the film, "Uptown Girls" is the female-friendly summer alternative to the testosterone pumping actioners that dominate the bigscreen during the warmer months. A buddy pic focusing on two upper-class Manhattan lovelies in completely different stages of physical and mental development--Murphy's 22-year-old Molly Gunn lives in a perpetual state of irresponsible adolescence, while Dakota Fanning's eight-year-old Ray is prematurely embittered and dismissive of childhood frivolity--the film vacillates between pure foolishness and unexpected amusement, with plenty of pretty hairstyles, pretty clothing and pretty teacups in between.

The premise for throwing the two leading ladies together is a financial crisis in Molly's luxurious and carefree life. After her accountant swindles her out of a sizeable fortune, which she had inherited after the death of her mother and rock star father, the inexperienced Molly is forced to find a way to support herself. Her buddy Huey (Donald Faison) finds the solution in the form of a nanny position taking care of Ray, the mirthless daughter of his boss Roma (Heather Locklear). As is expected, Molly's flightiness and Ray's seething anger--the doe-eyed blonde flips her schoolgirl middle finger twice in the film--are the source of ongoing friction between the pair, until the two slowly bond and learn they have a great deal in common. The only child of a career-driven absent mother and a father in a coma, Ray, like Molly, is starved for acceptance and affection. It is through this understanding and developing friendship that Ray shows Molly how to take on grown-up responsibilities, while Molly teaches Ray how to experience the joys of childhood.

The ability of "Uptown Girls" to charm its audience is completely dependent on the chemistry between Murphy and Fanning, and there is reasonable delight in the onscreen pairing. In her first star vehicle, Murphy relies on the bumbling physical comedy skills that she honed in her previous release "Just Married." Her penchant for slapstick, which is most certainly aimed at the movie's pre-teen target demo, plays against the intensity of Fanning's performance, which is as frightening as it is impressive in its seriousness.

That very seriousness, however, is also what at times works against "Uptown Girls." Although precocious in her ability to exude the hostility of adults five times her age, Fanning's black rage caused by the very unfunny matters of parental neglect and the impending death of a loved one grates against the film's driving purpose as lightweight fare. Director Boaz Yakin further burdens the story with a particular heavy-handedness, which is accentuated by an overwrought musical score and weepy dialogue during the film's emotional scenes. And although the movie certainly has other faults--predictability and an all-too-tidy conclusion among them--it is the off-putting and rather unnecessary darkness that sours this otherwise sweet fairytale. Starring Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Donald Faison and Heather Locklear. Directed by Boaz Yakin. Written by Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik and Lisa Davidowitz. Produced by John Penotti, Fisher Stevens and Allison Jacobs. An MGM release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Running time: 84 min

Tags: Starring Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Donald Faison, Heather Locklear. Directed by Boaz Yakin. Written by Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik and Lisa Davidowitz, Produced by John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Allison Jacobs, MGM, Comedy, Drama

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