My first real exposure to Brittany Murphy was in the thriller Don’t Say A Word with Michael Douglas. The movie didn’t thrill, and one of the main reasons for the minor failure was Murphy being in a role that was just over her head. Audiences and critics just couldn’t buy her in the role. She has yet to really impress anybody.
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The true measure of a star may be her ability to transform pap into froth. Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon established their leading-lady credentials by elevating otherwise mundane material in “Pretty Woman,” “While You Were Sleeping” and “Legally Blonde.” The chirpy, button-pushing “Uptown Girls” requires a similar magic job from Brittany Murphy, but that trick isn’t up the young actress’s sleeve.
Murphy is an odd sort of starlet to begin with; she was elevated to “it girl” status more through her appearances on magazine covers than her performances in movies. She’s colorful as a side character (as in “Clueless” and “Girl, Interrupted”), with her wide raccoon eyes, runaway hair (usually bleached blonde) and lithe body that always seems a bit off balance. In truth, she usually seems a bit off balance; you watch anticipating which way she’ll teeter and who’ll catch her.
One of the key differences between Witherspoon and Murphy is that when Witherspoon plays a ditz, she’s a ditz in control. When Murphy plays a ditz, she’s just ditzy. In “Uptown Girls” she’s like a puppy in traffic; you’re confident she’ll reach the curb but only because the cars are swerving, not because her moves are so deft.