Uptown Girls

(2003) * 1/2 Pg-13
93 min. distributer. Director: Boaz Yakin. Cast: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Donald Faison, Jesse Spencer.

Uptown Girls is a daddy's-little-princess movie with two dead daddies and two psychologically damaged princesses. Nevertheless, director Boaz Yakin keeps the tone consistently zany, escorting stars Brittany Murphy (Just Married) and Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam) through a creepy comedy of bad manners.

Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the richly entitled daughter of a late rock god. When her financial manager elopes with her assets, Molly must face a real world in which she's obligated to support herself. As such, she finds herself playing nanny to Ray, a prissy eight-year-old girl to whom therapy is already old hat and disinfectant is her only friend. Both "uptown girls" teach each other lessons in love and understanding; Molly teaches Ray to loosen up, and Ray teaches Molly to grow up. Awwww.

Once the crisis is established, the first two acts are a repetitive roundelay of the confused Molly screwing up her relationship with a young rock singer, leaning heavily on her friends, and pissing off Ray. The third act loses any credibility or good will to a too-tidy series of resolutions (one bizarrely involving polar-opposite rockers Mark McGrath and Dave Navarro and producer Fisher Stevens, all playing themselves).

Murphy is a force of nature, with big-eyed sex appeal and a talent for explosive physical humor. Her Molly is meant to be a charming mess, but Uptown Girls can't decide if she is meant to be a cartoon (like Reese Witherspoon's legal blondes) or a real person. A more bracing narrative could balance the two, but alas, it's not to be found.

On the other hand, Fanning's preposterously "adult" little girl is meant to be real, and though we can respect the wee Fanning's technically proficient, funny turn, we're never made to believe in her as more than the foil for a thuddingly obvious, dopey-weepy chick flick, full of flower-petal sentiment about breaking down emotional calluses.

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