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'Uptown Girls'

Can't get down with 'Uptown Girls'

Friday, August 15, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In "Uptown Girls," it's not enough that 8-year-old Ray Schleine (Dakota Fanning) has an absentee, high-powered Manhattan mother who misses her daughter's ballet recital because she's socializing in a bar.

 
 
'UPTOWN GIRLS'

RATING: PG-13 for sexual content, language

STARRING: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning

DIRECTOR: Boaz Yakin

   
 

No, Ray must have a father who was left comatose by a massive stroke. And Ray must be a germ-phobic, health-obsessed, rigid little person who can barely be called a child. She's an adult in a small body who refuses hamburgers for fear of mad cow disease, who first saw a shrink at age 3 and who lectures her nanny: "Fruit punch! Why don't you just drink cyanide? At least it's quicker."

The bratty blonde has enough problems and quirks for a couple of movie children but she's not the reason "Uptown Girls" is so unbearable at times. It's the way the character of Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy), reluctant nanny, has been imagined.

She's an even bigger bundle of eccentricities. Orphaned at age 8 and living off the riches and royalties from her rock-star dad, the 22-year-old has a pet pig named "Moo," a fashionable-funky waif wardrobe and no clue about what it means when utility shut-off notices arrive. She also picks up a cute singer ("a rock 'n' roll poet sex god") in a bar and first complains to a friend that he won't leave, and later weeps, "He's gone, I have no life."

The movie tries to push your buttons -- here's the part where you should laugh ... brush away a tear ... feel outraged ... find a character adorable or horrible or redeemable ... and cheer -- and ends up pushing you out the door. Left to my own devices, I would have bolted about 15 minutes in; either a projector lamp going bad or softly lighted scenes made the early images hard to see, adding aggravation to insult.

"Uptown Girls," directed by Boaz Yakin, is about as predictable as they come. It pairs Ray, the child who is an adult, with Molly, the adult who is a child. They, of course, must despise each other, grudgingly grow to like and understand each other, have a falling out, face a couple of crises and then grow up -- or down, as in the case of Ray, who needs to loosen up a bit.

I was one of the few critics who liked "I Am Sam," the movie that made Fanning the youngest Screen Actors Guild nominee for her turn as the child of a mentally retarded man. She gets to demonstrate a full range of emotions here and does an amazing job, especially when she must flash her anger. Murphy's Molly is, as written, all over the map. She wobbles from one persona to another just as she teeters on ridiculously impractical heels.

"Uptown Girls" also features Heather Locklear as Ray's record executive mother, Marley Shelton and "Scrubs" regular Donald Faison as Molly's friends, and Australian Jesse Spencer as the sexy singer who pens a most ridiculous song. It does little to rescue a summer movie season that's been as dismal as the weather.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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