Directed by Boaz Yakin. Starring Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Donald Faison, Jesse Spencer, Austin Pendleton, Heather Locklear. (2003, PG-13, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 15, 2003
Uptown Girls has nothing to do with the similarly named Billy Joel song, except perhaps for the fact that the movie’s hackneyed and poor construction makes you long for anything – even an impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head Billy Joel hook – to make the time pass. Murphy plays grownup party girl Molly Gunn, the orphaned daughter of a world-famous rock star who died with his wife in a plane crash. Molly lives in a tony New York City apartment amid the kind of squalid decadence that only people who don’t have to think about money can afford. Then, in a ripped-from-the-headlines plot turn, Molly’s accountant absconds with her fortune, leaving her destitute and bereft of marketable skills. Then she lands a job as a nanny to a girl even more obnoxious and pathetic than she. Eight-year-old Ray (Fanning, recently seen playing Sean Penn’s daughter in I Am Sam) is the daughter of a high-powered music executive Roma Schleine (Locklear, in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-her role that only reminded me of how truly sensational Frances McDormand was as a similarly employed exec in Laurel Canyon.) Ray is a sad, little, germophobic know-it-all, who, as the formula demands, provides the instrument for getting Molly’s mind right. Or more accurately, they help each other. Yet the truth of the story is that each of these girls is so bratty that they deserve each other’s company. Inexplicably, Molly has lots of friends who even stand by her once her money is gone. But none of it is handled with any emotional believability or grace. Well-worn phrases and plot developments are repeated here as though the world had never heard of Cinderella. Oh yeah; toss in the prince, aka a bad singer-songwriter named Neal (Spencer), and a surprise finale like the one in About a Boy, in which the prince serenades his lady from the stage of a school auditorium. Director Boaz Yakin has a hit-and-miss career with this sort of heart-warming fare – hitting with his debut film Fresh and the recent Remember the Titans and missing with A Price Above Rubies and now Uptown Girls. Esteemed cinematographer Michael Ballhaus finds himself curiously slumming in this movie, although his frequent but inexplicable swish pans make his presence felt. He should have left this uptown girl in the gutter.