Like the first sip of a frozen milkshake or the stomach-churning sensation of a glittering carnival ride, Brittney Murphy’s latest flick, “Uptown Girls,” provides us with an instant ticket back to the heady excitement, reeling confusion and playful magic of childhood.
Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the impulsive, excitable daughter of a late rock star legend. Both of the Gunns died in a plane crash when Molly was eight years old, leaving her with a small fortune, an agent to pay her bills, an upscale apartment and the deep dizzying, scarring pain of loss.
Murphy is delightful as Molly, and her genuine appeal rests not with her consistent immature disregard for responsibility, but with the transformation of the pain into a fairytale existence.
We see her rock at parties, leave trash all over her high rise apartment and spontaneously blow money on 900-thread count sheets. We see her nab any guy she wants, and we see her treated like a princess wherever she goes. The temptation, as an adult viewer, is just to throw up our hands at her. But, what makes this movie different from the rest in the teenybopper, romantic comedy pile, is that fleeting glimpse we catch and connect with. It’s when she flashes us that impulsive, glittering smile, with all the fears and sorrows lurking in her big bright eyes, all we want to do is comfort that scared, lost child that she is.
Molly finds, however, that like all fairytales and carnival rides, this way of life also has an ending. The man that her parents hired to pay her bills disappeared, stealing all of her money. Forced to find a job for the first time in her life, Molly becomes a nanny for Ray Schleine, (Dakota Fanning). Embittered and cynical beyond her years, Ray is the eight-year-old neglected daughter of rich A&R executive mother Roma (Heather Locklear).
Ray’s parents had always given her gifts instead of attention and love. And as a result, she has retreated into a life of sarcasm and routine to mask the childhood pain amplified by a dying father. She doesn’t play, but arranges the toys in her room, and believes that “fundamentals are the basis of fun.” Ray is the concentrated meticulous ballerina, and Molly is the free spirited freestyle dancer.
What is great about this movie is the believability that both actresses evoke. There is empathy and love for both characters. With her spirit and love, Molly gives Ray the gift of realizing her pain and, as a result, healing. Ray in turn teaches Molly that its possible to be an adult, and still retain that magic spirit of childhood.
The movie reminds us that it is possible to retain that fairytale existence admist the scary dirty bleak world of adulthood, responsibility, death and rules. There is more to fun than “fundamentals.” There is the possibility of balance and healing and love.
While it will never grace the Academy’s golden lists, “Uptown Girls” is feel-good schmaltz that finds a connection with its audience. After all, we were all once just children searching for that fairytale.