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Uptown Girls
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Uptown Girls is one of the summer's chick flics. Starring Brittany Murphy as Molly and Dakota Fanning as Ray. It's directed by Boaz Yakin and also features heather Locklear as Roma, Ray's mom.

Molly's the daughter of a famous rock and roll guitarist, but her parents died in a car crash when she was a kid and so she lives alone on a gigantic trust fund in a huge New York City apartment with her pet pig Moo. Shortly after her 22nd birthday (where her friends make her worry about getting old and where she develops a crush on aspiring guitarist and singer Neal), she learns that she is broke, the financial manager having made off with all the money. She's clueless about what to do, since she barely manages to organize her life as it is. She's the little girl who never grew up. The boyfriend gets freaked out living in this land of eternal childhood (Molly eats Pez for dinner) and splits to go have a career. Molly's best friend Ingrid takes her in but expects her to do everything with her and is sort of preppie and boring. Finally, star maker Huey (Donald Faison) takes her in and hooks her up with a job, being nanny for one of the record label's most coveted stars, Roma (Locklear). Dakota Fanning is the kid, ray, a prematurely aged 8-year-old who's plagued by illnesses, allergies, and OCD.

Ray's dad lies comatose in their huge Manhattan apartment; Ray's mom is never around. The scene is set: a girl who never grew up finds a child who was never a little girl. Fanning is a consummate actress, delivering her sarcastic lines perfectly, while Murphy does a great job of conveying an endearing combination of helplessness, softness, and joy.

The story is, in some ways, completely predictable. At times, one wants to choke on the material privilege (or safety nets) that seem to be a sine qua non in the movies for the frank exploration and confrontation of emotional wounds. In other words, this is a fairy tale. There are even voice-overs at the beginning and the end that signal the "once upon a time" and the "ever after," as well as several references to famous fairy tales that are also lessons for girls, like Cinderella. Nevertheless, like all fairy tales, inside this make-believe frame, Uptown Girls manages to deal with some real stuff. Like the movie What a Girl Wants (which resembles this one right down to the rock and roll parents and the special song), the sorrow that weighs these girls down is the absence of their fathers who, because dead, are remembered as having loved them perfectly. But these movies know that the daughter's image of the father is a fantasy-that's why they're fairy tales, after all.

Most of the movie tells the story of how the girls learn to let go of the fantasies that disappoint and embitter them so that Molly can grow up and Ray can learn to be a child. Molly teaches Ray that someone can disappoint you but still care; she also teaches her about joy and having fun. Ray, meanwhile, teaches Molly what it means to have someone rely on you, what it is to be important to someone. In the absence of the father, in other words, these girls figure out how to be there for each other. So this is a modern, grrrl-power (not to mention capitalist) version of a fairy tale: the girls get what they need from each other and not from their fathers or father-substitutes. And, instead of husbands or babies, what they ultimately get is success.
I enjoyed Uptown Girls. The sadness in it rings true, even if the fantasy doesn't. There's one thing though, that I'd like to see these fairy tales fix, now that we're in the 21st century, and that's to stop making Mom the fall guy. Isn't it about time we put her back in the story not as the evil or heartless or uncaring narcissist (the queen in Sleeping Beauty), but as the ordinary struggling adult she turns out to be?  Uptown Girls almost gets there, but not quite.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.