Little Black Book Review
“Imagine My Surprise When This Spearmint Gummy, High-concept Driven, Brittany Murphy Vehicle, Kicked My Ass.”
August 5th, 2004
You know, I am not a Brittany Murphy fan, and the prospect of sitting through yet another variation on Mean Girls was not on my radar, thank you very much. So pity me, please, walking dutifully into the AMC 14 to see Little Black Book, plunking myself down fifth row center, and being forced to hear wall-to-wall Tween chatter all around me. Why do women between 12 and 20 all talk like Valley Girls these days? They all use that same lagging last word in each sent-e-ence. I hear it and I think of Melanie Hutsell on Saturday Night Live who nailed that Gap Girl patois perfectly. So as the lights went down, I anticipated yet another foray into G-irl W-ooorld. Imagine my surprise when this Spearmint Gummy, high-concept driven, Brittany Murphy vehicle, kicked my ass.
Yes, Little Black Book is about a girl who dares to look in her boyfriend's Palm Pilot and discovers... stuff. And yes, it hits all the required notes that concept demands. It also has the single weirdest, and amazingly cool, Holly Hunter performance ever. All in all, what you get is tract on honesty, and finding out what you want in life, and who wants you.
It all unfolds at a Jerry Springer-esque talk show hosted by the fabulous Kathy Bates as Kippie Kan. Kippie likes K words and the klippy konversation between Kathy and the kids who kreate the show is addik-tive. The script by Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell is witty, and fast-paced. Like Jerry Springer, Kippie specializes in parading Grannies who hook, sex-change operations and, apparently, farm animals. It's a circus. But Brittany doesn't mind. A newbie, Mary Tyler Moore-ish associate producer, she wants to get ahead and thinks the world-weary Holly has taken her under her wing.
But she has like so... no-oot!
There are moments between Holly and Brittany in which the former seems to be in another movie, channeling the ghosts of Broadcast News, and having an out of body experience right before our eyes. What is she doing? I kept asking. The closest thing I could think of was the time I saw Robert Morris in a stage revival of How To Succeed In Business. This was after he'd starred in the movie, and maybe the thousandth time he'd done this role, and there was Robert Morris, on stage, going through the motions, anchored in the center of gravity that was his character, but not. You could see the loopy place he'd gone to in his eyes, and were dying to know where that was. Was he about to crack or was he going to do... something else?
A paean to Working Girl, a movie Brittany's character loves, this is the upside down, bad mentor version of the Melanie Griffin classic. Because while this is, on its high concept surface, about Brittany and her boyfriend, it's really about Brittany and her relationship with other women. Because at the Satanic urging of Holly Hunter, when Brittany dips into her boyfriend's past and discovers a whole passel of ex-girlfriends he's still toying with, she decides to meet them all. What do they have that she doesn't? Why did these old relationships break up? And what Brittany finds isn't very pretty, but is so much more satisfying than we could hope.
Ron Livingston is the boyfriend. Another good sign. I've been a fan of his since Office Space and he lends a solid Joe quality to this. Shouldn't they be together? Why sure. And if Brittany hadn't gone snooping maybe they would.
How all these worlds and people collide is one for the little black book. I won't tell more about what happens only to say that at the center of it, as Holly Hunter conducts the climax, it turns on Holly's ability to fool the audience. That was what all that weirdness was about. Sleight of hand that teaches Brittany, and us, that no one is necessarily what they seem.
And guess what? I even liked Brittany Murphy. There's a there there! I am thrilled to report. After sixteen movies with no Brittany there, dealing with a girl NAMED Brittany (that's just for starters) she surprised me too. Toe-to-toe with Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates, she stood her ground. I could do with one less Carly Simon interlude (I have "Anticpiation" that her CD sales will boom) but if the audience I saw it with is any indication, that's fine too.