UPTOWN GIRLS is remarkable for its monumental ineptitude. Students of film may well study it one day, mouths agape in wonder, as an example of what not to do when creating a narrative. It wants to be a heartwarming comedy, but it is neither. Instead, it is an irksome and depressing tale that takes just under two excruciating hours to tell. As an audience, we are subjected to characters that are unloved because they are, in essence, unlovable, add to this the spectacle of a director (Boaz Yakin) who flails madly in his attempt to make it all work. He fails.
The story is routine. Rich girl sheltered from the real world is suddenly broke. With no job skills, no life skills, and only the faintest idea of what the real world might be other than an MTV series. The girl in question is Molly (Brittany Murphy), the daughter of deceased but otherwise wildly successful rock stars. Her accountant, Bob, absconds with her cash and a debt so huge that she won’t be seeing any of the residuals her parents left her until she’s eligible for social security. She can’t hold a job until a pal sets her up as the nanny for the most difficult child since the bad seed. That would be Ray, a preternaturally self-possessed child of eight who is sophisticated in her tastes and in her hyperbolic brand of hypochondria. I know she’s supposed to be adorable, but even with Dakota Fannings undeniable talent for immersing herself in a character, this kid is just plain creepy, that is, when she’s not being bitchy. Molly, on the other hand, has a heart of gold, the brain of a ditz, and understands the concept of fun, as demonstrated by her sartorial choices that are cut low, high, and are usually transparent.
Would that the film demonstrated a similar understanding. This being a story with no imagination, we are to take on faith that these two will bond and that they will both be better people for it. This being a script that wastes no time on such things as coherence, we’re never given any reason to believe that this could happen. These being writers (Alison Jacobs, Julie Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik, Lisa Davidowitz) who have tin ears for dialogue, theres nothing clever, much less funny, said by anyone at all during the entire film. Let me put it this way, plastic scones are supposed to send us into uncontrollable spasms of guffaws. That Molly keeps a pig as a pet might have been cute if only it weren’t so derivative of television’s DESIGNING WOMEN circa 1988.
By the time we reach the part where our two heroines, neither perceptibly more likeable than at the start of the proceedings, puddle up and the music swells as they finally learn the life lesson du jour, the audience is left with nothing else to do but give a collective yawn of impatient indifference.
Plot holes abound. Things like Molly’s television still working even though her electricity’s been turned off. Buying sheets that cost over $1000 after Bob absconds with her fortune. Yakin tries as best he can to cover these points and inject a little entertainment value into his film by having Murphy take pratfall after pratfall. It doesnt work. It all culminates in a ballet recital that would be a Dada masterpiece if the people involved had realized how perfectly ridiculous it was and played it with irony.
When I see a flick like UPTOWN GIRLS, I have to wonder what the collection of film folk responsible were thinking. Where in the process did things go so very wrong? And why didn’t they just all cut their losses and bail before getting the public involved?