Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Get the Poster
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Marley Shelton, Heather Locklear, Donald Faison, Jesse Spencer, Austin Pendleton, Pell James, Wynter Kullman
Written by: Julia Dahl, Lisa Davidowitz, Allison Jacobs, Mo Ogrodnik
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 92
Date: 08/15/2003

Uptown Girls (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wise Girls

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Firstly, the awful Uptown Girls trailer does not hold great promise for this fish-out-of-water / opposites-attract story. But sometimes a bad trailer hides the fabric of a good movie.

Uptown Girls tells the story of Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy), a rock star's orphaned daughter whose trust fund has suddenly collapsed just after her 22nd birthday. Her best friend Ingrid (Marley Shelton) helps her land her very first job -- as nanny to an impossible 9 year-old spoiled brat, Ray (Dakota Fanning).

It's pretty clear that the uptight Ray will help the irresponsible Molly grow up and that Molly will help Ray loosen up. But, as directed by Boaz Yakin (Fresh, Remember the Titans), the material comes across as gentle and touching rather than over-the-top and brash, as depicted in the trailer.

Murphy makes the most of this character, a flighty party girl who doesn't even know who pays her bills or how they get paid. She plays with the backstory of the rock star father and moves with a certain spoiled swagger and comfort. Even her cleverly decorated room contains artifacts from every facet of her life, from early childhood through teenage years through twentysomething.

Little Fanning manages a world-weariness and sadness in her character, a girl so tense she schedules "fun" in her day-planner. Fanning (I Am Sam) is so good and so damn professional you want to make her play in the mud or skin her knees on a skateboard so that she doesn't grow up to be a convenience store bandit.

The best scenes come when Molly takes Ray to Coney Island for an afternoon of fun -- including her first hot dog -- only to find that it's shut down for the season. Yakin and the great cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (The Marriage of Maria Braun, Gangs of New York) give the afternoon such a primal, heartbreaking sadness that you feel like you're watching Lillian Gish in a D.W. Griffith melodrama. You want to weep unabashedly.

The Uptown Girls trailer would have us believe that Molly has a romance with a sullen pop musician (Jesse Spencer), but he's incidental to the plot and works mostly as another heartbreaking step on Molly's way to joining the human race. The movie focuses tenderly and whole-heartedly on the too-grown-up child and the not-grown-up-enough adult.

The movie ends with a dance recital by Ray, in which she "interprets" Molly's personality for the stage. This could have been the most hackneyed, goopy scene of the year, but, again, Fanning, Yakin and Ballhaus handle it with gentle grace.

Studios usually reserve their hard-to-sell movies or their just-plain-bad movies for the months of January and August. People are on vacation during those months, and movie attendance does not take such a high priority. In the case of Uptown Girls, I think they made a mistake. They've underestimated this movie and killed it with a truly awful advertising campaign. It's highly unlikely very many people will give it a chance, but it deserves one.

In 2016, Olive Films released Uptown Girls on Blu-ray for the first time. The bonuses seem to be the same ones from the DVD, a couple of short featurettes, deleted scenes, a trailer and a music video for Chantal Kreviazuk's "Time."

Movies Unlimtied