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Uptown Girls Movie Review Essay

Ray, who is as precise and orderly as Molly is slovenly, is also an orphan of sorts. Her icy mother, Roma (Heather Locklear), is far too busy pursuing a high-powered career in the music business (and the sexual opportunities it offers) to give Ray the time of day. Ray's father, who suffered a stroke, lies in a vegetative state attended by nurses.

''Uptown Girls'' evokes a post-''Sex and the City'' world of spoiled, shallow predators with little of the charm or humor of Carrie Bradshaw and her crew.

The movie, directed by Boaz Yakin (''Remember the Titans''), also owes a big debt to the British comedy series ''Absolutely Fabulous,'' which pits a precociously mature child (Ray listens to Mozart, studies ballet and talks in the meticulous cadences of a prep school head mistress) against a selfish hedonist who can't pick up after herself.

Ultimately Molly learns to care for others and helps Ray discover the weepy inner child hidden behind the pseudo-adult scold.

Ms. Murphy is more convincing as an acquisitive young princess than as the reformed, responsible Woman Who Cares she eventually becomes. The actress simply lacks the innate likability factor that makes you root for Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon, even when their characters are behaving badly.

Ms. Fanning deftly handles the one-note role of the serious little girl who learns to cry.

But the movie, which opens today nationwide, is fatally true to the hypocritical values of its niche market. While pretending to teach a lesson in compassion, it wallows in the perks of privilege. Its real message is that beauty, wealth, a shrewd fashion sense, expensive bed clothes and, above all, an ironclad sense of entitlement can help a girl conquer the world. That's all it takes.

''Uptown Girls'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has sexual situations.

UPTOWN GIRLS

Directed by Boaz Yakin; written by Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik and Lisa Davidowitz, based on a story by Allison Jacobs, Ms. Ogrodnik and Ms. Davidowitz; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by David Ray; music by Joel McNeely; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by John Penotti, Fisher Stevens and Ms. Jacobs; released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Brittany Murphy (Molly Gunn), Dakota Fanning (Ray Schleine), Marley Shelton (Ingrid), Donald Faison (Huey), Jesse Spencer (Neal) and Heather Locklear (Roma Schleine).

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Molly Gunn : The last time I saw my mom and dad, I was eight going on nine... eight years, six months, and three days... almost as old as you are. They were going on tour and leaving me behind for the first time, because they didn't want me missing any more school, and they came to my room to say goodbye and I wouldn't open the door, so they left. I fell asleep and then the next thing I know, my nanny was waking me up in the middle of the night telling me their plane had crashed.

Lorraine Schleine : You're lucky... that you were mad. See, when you're mad you don't miss people and if you stay mad, it's like you never knew them at all... that way you don't have to feel sucky about it... You were lucky...

Molly Gunn : I wasn't mad, I was confused... everyone was talking, talking, talking at me and I couldn't understand a word they were saying, and then their voices became a blur and soon I couldn't even recognize their faces; they were like these blobs and they started to grow fangs and their eyes became green and I knew I had to run away. So I packed my knapsack, got on the train, and looked up at the map and decided I wanted to live on Coney Island. I thought it would be... you know... a real island. That I thought I could hide there like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin, but imagine my surprise... The teacups were the only ride they would let me on by myself, so I got on it and I started spinning around and 'round and 'round. But I feel like I am still there... spinning 'round and 'round and 'round... and the ride won't stop... You were right, Ray, I am scared. But you're scared too. You're scared as I am and I thought that maybe if we could go together...