Brittany Murphy leaves behind Detroit's grimy 8 Mile Road for glitzy uptown New York. Unfortunately, the pixyish pretty gal is trapped in a Big Apple-based, riches-to-rags fairy tale that's rotten to the core.
Once upon a time there lived the daughter of a dead rock star. Molly Gunn (Murphy) enjoyed all the luxuries money can buy and partied every night at the hippest nightclubs without a care in the world. But that was before the socialite turned 22 and saw her charmed life come to an abrupt end. After her inheritance is embezzled, Molly's out on the streets and in desperate need of a job. She's also smitten with sensitive singer-guitarist Neal (Jesse Spencer), who's taken a vow of chastity as he tries to make it big. Luckily, Molly's friend Huey (Donald Faison, lumbered with the thankless role of the platonic best pal) lands her a job babysitting 8-year-old Ray (Dakota Fanning). Only Ray, the neglected daughter of a music executive mother, Roma (Heather Locklear), and a dying father, is a vicious, domineering, bratty neat freak with a nasty way of driving her nannies to tears. Ray doesn't have much time for Molly and her quirky habits, which include raising a pet potbellied pig named Mu and storing her cash in her freezer. Of course, as with all fairy tales, Uptown Girls is destined for a happy ending. Unfortunately, director Boaz Yakin and his four credited writers don't conjure up any magical moments for Molly on her path to joy and self-enlightenment. Instead, you sit there wondering how long it will take for Molly to win over Ray and lecture Roma on her lousy parenting skills. Or when she's going to realize that Neal's dumped her for hot mama Roma. Or that she must auction off her late father's prized guitar to pay the rent.
Flighty Brittany Murphy doesn't have the dramatic presence or comic flair to carry a flimsy little fable such as this on her slight shoulders. This forces her to deliver a manic-depressive performance of exhausting proportions. She's either higher than the Empire State Building or lower than the New York City subway. One moment she's giddily prancing through Central Park, the next she's trying to drown herself in a pond. Murphy's wild mood swings make Molly the source of much annoyance, resulting in little sympathy for this poor little rich girl after she falls from the top rung of New York's social ladder or admiration for her when she realizes she can't afford her old ways. Her Molly is also so irresponsible and immature that it's hard to understand why anyone would hire her to nanny a child, especially a brat who's a real handful. Sure, Ray's lonely and scared of her own father's impending death, but she's a bossy, know-it-all worrywart in desperate need of child therapy. Talented 9-year-old Dakota Fanning effectively conveyed both strength and vulnerability as Sean Penn's at-risk daughter in the manipulative I Am Sam. In Uptown Girls, she fails to make Ray anything more than an emotionless pintsize terror. She's so cold and inexpressive that the only smile she cracks during Uptown Girls blinds you with surprise. Her smile radiates such warmth that, for a split second, you forget that Fanning mostly storms through Uptown Girls like T3's Terminatrix in a tutu. Heather Locklear's all dolled up with precious little to do between TV gigs. Jesse Spencer, as Neal, is the least charismatic on-screen pop idol since Stuart Townsend drained the life out of Queen of the Damned as vampire-turned-Goth rocker Lestat. At one point, a besotted Molly laughingly calls Spencer's whining warbler the Lizard King reincarnated. The Doors fan or not, no one's going to mistake Neal's signature song, ''Sheets of Egyptian Cotton,'' with ''Light My Fire.''
Boaz Yakin scored a touchdown with his family-friendly Remember the Titans. But that football yarn proved both inspirational to kids and heartwarming to adults. Here Yakin never decides who he seeks to address. If the intention is to appeal to preteen girls--as Disney's successfully done with The Princess Diaries and its Freaky Friday remake--Yakin has failed miserably. Uptown Girls is occasionally too mature for kids and often too childish for adults. Parents will yawn while Molly acts like she's 22 going on 12 and Ray throws bedroom tea parties and squirm when their children ask them after the movie to explain the meaning of celibacy--Uptown Girls certainly isn't shy about sex, although the film's all talk and no action. Still, Molly's quite a man-eater. She won't take no for an answer despite Neal's commitment to abstinence. Yakin also plays Molly's suicide bid for laughs to demonstrate her inability to cope with everyday problems (parents may have to explain that jumping off a bridge is not the best way to handle life's trials and tribulations), and it's typical of how Yakin resolves matters. Everything ends with a splash, smash or crash. Molly's such a klutz she wrecks closets and ruins washing machines. Plates shatter and toy dolls fly whenever Molly and Ray argue. Molly even slaps Ray across the face when the traumatized tyke lashes out at the loss of her father. No doubt the American Academy of Pediatrics does not consider this an appropriate way to comfort a grieving child. Then again, maybe it should issue an advisory that taking kids to see Uptown Girls is tantamount to an act of child abuse.
Heading uptown to hang out with these girls? Save the cab fare. There's no joy in spending even a minute in the company of the bickering Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning. They deserve each other. We don't deserve them.