"Every story has an end. But in life, every ending is just a new beginning."
"Fruit punch? Why don't you just drink cyanide? At least it's quick."
More or less another tired take on the old Odd Couple formula, Uptown Girls is an uneven, clichéd, saccharine-coated blend of comedy and drama. Ostensibly aimed at a teenage female audience, Uptown Girls is a sterling example of Hollywood craftsmanship gone wrong. Both critics and audiences have perceived this fluffy filmic creation to be among 2003's worst movies, and, frankly, you'll be hard-pressed to feel to the contrary. A host of continuity problems, lack of proper direction, sloppy screenwriting and stereotypical characters aside, the picture is simply tedious. Saturated in corny cuteness by the committee of screenwriters (Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik and Lisa Davidowitz) and glossily directed by Boaz Yakin, it's a cotton-candy confection that's far too superficial and mannered. Can't say you weren't warned, though, as the picture is named after a Billy Joel song...a song which is never even featured on the film's soundtrack!
As for the plot: Molly Gunn (Murphy), the free-spirited daughter of a deceased rock star legend, has lived a carefree, frivolous life without responsibility. Using the multi-million dollar inheritance left to her by her parents, Molly has never been required to hold down a job, and has successfully delayed the onset of adulthood. When her late father's financial advisor flees with the remainder of Molly's fortune, she's left bankrupt, heavy in debt and evicted. With no alternatives, the rock star princess sets out to find a job. Molly is hired to serve as a babysitter for precocious, obnoxious spoiled brat Ray (Fanning). Predictably, Molly and Ray's interaction is life-changing for both souls. Honestly, who didn't see that coming? More importantly, who cares?
Unevenly pitched between scatterbrained humour and transparent tugs on the heartstrings, Uptown Girls is fundamentally a silly fairytale set in a real-world setting. While the performances are fairly appealing and the filmmaking is adequate, the screenplay is woeful. The central criticism of this abysmal screenplay is simple: it seems to faithfully adhere to the formula of 2002's About a Boy, to the extent that About a Girl is probably a more appropriate title, and this movie was in all likelihood green-lit to capitalise on the success of the aforementioned British gem. Both movies feature immature adults and intelligent but maladjusted children who all come of age through their interactions with each other. They both even have the same climax; a child performing in front of a crowd, which apparently solves everything.
Fanning's Ray (while undeniably cute) is one of the least likeable kids in cinematic history. She's mean-spirited and obnoxious, and has the emotional depth of a tax attorney. Murphy's Molly, on the other hand, is a detestable, ditzy hippy. The script is also loaded with horrible dialogue. It contains an inordinate amount of annoying catchphrases which are apparently supposed to be cute. Common phrases are even over-abused, with characters constantly uttering "Oh my God" among other things. It's difficult to fathom how it took three writers to pen this script. They appear to spend so much time bolstering the characters up, and succeed only in making you want to strangle them. On top of this, there are the irritating on-again, off-again antics of Molly and her love interest Neal (Spencer). Not long after meeting, they're in the sack. And before a relationship has even been established, both of them have already prepared break-up speeches. From there the relationship yo-yos back and forth with no rhyme or reason (except to deliver ersatz moments of drama), culminating in silly plot turns such as Neal's recording of a song destined for death in the bargain bin.
With a bundle of egregiously flagrant film flubs, Uptown Girls may also be one of the sloppiest movies in history. Virtually all movies, even great ones, contain a few minor mistakes, but Uptown Girls features several unforgiveable doozies. The electricity in Molly's apartment has been disconnected, for instance, yet her television miraculously still functions. She's also unable to pay her phone bill, yet her answering machine still receives calls. In one of the film's most crucial scenes, Neal displays his uncanny ability to sing and play his guitar while his mouth is shut and hands are clapping.
Not to mention the script is also plagued with inconsistencies in relation to Ray's character. Ray chastises Molly for touching her toys, for example, yet doesn't really seem to mind a pig traipsing around her room. Another head-scratcher: Ray must wipe the top of every new bottle she drinks from, but allows Molly to sleep in her bed after she has submerged herself in a creek filled with raw sewerage. Convincing development of character relationships is another thing Uptown Girls is deficient in. Emotional details appear to be missing. From time to time it seems as if an important, full scene has been excised, and crucial developments have occurred off-screen.
"Act your age, not your shoe size."
However, Uptown Girls is infused with a minor charm, and the source of this charm is the nice cast. The irresistible Brittany Murphy is appealing for such a shallow character. The actress again demonstrates her ability to handle ditzy comic roles with ease. Young Dakota Fanning is gorgeous and believable as the neurotic Ray. Her character's nature notwithstanding, Dakota is moderately charming in her role, and provides the film with its only genuinely amusing moments.
Australia's Jesse Spencer also places forth a credible, appealing performance as a dubiously talented British musician. Other members of the cast include Marley Shelton, Donald Faison, Austin Pendleton and Heather Locklear, all of which do an adequate job with the dismal script.
Precisely which demographic the filmmakers were trying to reach remains a real mystery. The situations are generally too adult (lots of sexuality is on display), thus the film is inappropriate for younger children (in spite of the feel-good marketing campaign which appeared to suggest that the film is a worthwhile family fare). On the other hand, a majority of Uptown Girls is far too juvenile for most adults who'll hardly be entertained. With its standard chick-flick music montages depicting Murphy's silly antics, and yet another stereotypical heart-throb for the romantic lead, there is also little appeal for a male audience.
In 1989, Boaz Yakin witnessed his first screenplay hit the big screen in the form of The Punisher. Fourteen years later, in a strange twist of fate, Yakin has become The Punisher! Uptown Girls is an awful movie in almost every aspect. It seems unconcerned with painting a realistic world, alternatively resembling some ludicrous fairytale environment.
The "jokes" are poorly timed and frequently unfunny, the screenwriting is inept, and the film suffers from a distinct lack of direction. Fortunately, the performances (in particular the superbly caustic Fanning) manage to keep the sentimental script afloat. Maybe it will appeal to teenage girls seeking a movie to watch during a party due to the nice performances, but it's bona fide junk for everyone else. A truly loathsome experience!