Uptown Girls
review by Dan Lybarger, 15 August 2003

Dakota Fanning is only nine years old, but sheís already made a habit of stealing the show from her adult costars. In I Am Sam, she was infinitely more compelling than Sean Pennís shameless Oscar baiting.  To a lesser extent, the same thing happens in Uptown Girls. Brittany Murphy is top billed, but Fanning almost makes the cloying, predictable film interesting.

Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the trust fund daughter of a long dead rock musician. Because money hasnít been an object, her life consists of partying with rich artistic types and sleeping any time that suits her. Her lost weekend of a life comes to an abrupt end when she learns that her financial manager has squandered all of her inheritance and is on the lam. This means sheíll actually have to work for a living.

The jobs that most of us do are a bad fit for Molly, who finds staying awake during the daylight a Herculean task. Out of desperation, she takes a nanny gig for a bright little girl named Ray (Fanning). Ray goes through nannies the way that Spinal Tap goes through drummers. The totís personality might be a factor. Sheís obnoxious about her health consciousness and others should beware if she thinks they are carrying germs. Knowing that her disapproval can send potential caregivers to the unemployment office, Ray loves wielding power. Itís no shock to discover that the spoiled Molly, despite some early setbacks, manages to get through to the youngster in a way that others canít. Director Boaz Yakin and screenwriters Allison Jacobs, Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnic and Lisa Davidowitz do nothing to break the template with this one.

As a result, viewers might wish they could fast forward to the obvious conclusion. Watching Murphy grow into an adult in both mind and body offers an occasional chuckle. Sheís certainly got the talent (check out her work in Girl Interrupted or 8 Mile), but itís safe to say the pratfalls are not her specialty. Fanning, however, takes over the screen early and never lets go. She has a sense of comic timing and a vocal delivery that most adult actors would envy. She doesnít soften Rayís hateful edge, but she performs it with so much flair that it becomes fascinating to watch.

Uptown Girls is Yakinís second mainstream movie, and itís nothing like his previous films (the engrossingly mind-bending Fresh and the didactic but occasionally effective A Price Above Rubies). His last Hollywood effort, Remember The Titans, might have been for Łber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, but it still featured a good deal of the social commentary of his first two movies. Uptown Girls seems to be Yakimís attempt at lightening up, and heís frankly a better moralist than an entertainer. The story also feels a bit too thin and monotonous to really move. To his credit, Yakim does have a good eye for atmosphere. Ace cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas) imbues the film with a gorgeous fairy tale look, and featuring real life rockers like ace guitarist Dave Navarro in cameos gives Uptown Girls a much needed sense of authenticity.

The conclusion is actually endearing and funny because it features a few surprises that were missing from the rest of the film. Uptown Girls does deliver what a viewer might expect, but itís shame it canít do more.

Directed by:
Boaz Yakin

Starring:
Brittany Murphy
Dakota Fanning
Marley Shelton
Donald Adeosun Faison
Heather Locklear
Michael Urie
Tony Devon

Written by:
Julia Dahl
Mo Ogrodnik
Lisa Davidowitz

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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