LITTLE BLACK BOOK
**1/2 (out of 5)
August 6, 2004
Brittany Murphy as STACY
Holly Hunter as BARB
Kathy Bates as KIPPIE KANN
Ron Livingston as DEREK
Julianne Nicholson as JOYCE
Stephen Tobolowsky as CARL
Kevin Sussman as IRA
Studio: Revolution Studios
Directed by: Nick Hurran
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I once saw Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street” debate Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel about their use of the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” ratings. Oscar contended that if you had a movie that you didn’t like but didn’t dislike, you should be able to give it a “thumbs sideways.”
If there ever was a movie deserving of the elusive “thumbs sideways” rating, it would be “Little Black Book.” There were parts that I liked about the film – I mean really liked. Then there were other parts that I just didn’t. And still there were parts that I respected but really wasn’t all that fond of. So, on “Little Black Book,” I’m conflicted.
“Little Black Book” tells the story of Stacy (Brittany Murphy), who thinks she has found love in Derek (Ron Livingston). However, after landing a job on the Kippi Kan Do show, a local Oprah wannabe that shamelessly imitates Jerry Springer, Stacy learns that a bulimic supermodel guest used to date her man. Although Derek insists the “relationship” was not that great and definitely over, it doesn’t stop Stacy from digging into his past to learn about his other trysts. Along the way, with the help of her conniving friend at the station (Holly Hunter), she discovers that not all of Derek’s former girlfriends are totally in his past.
If there’s ever a genre in which you shouldn’t fiddle with the formula, it’s the romantic comedy. Leave that to the independent filmmakers. But if you’re making a star vehicle and a hopeful summer hit, let history dictate your story. While this may not be a popular view by critics, I understand that romantic comedies are cash cows for the industry. There’s a set audience (which includes my lovely and gracious wife, Carolyn) that doesn’t mind a dash of predictability and a dose of cliche. And there’s enough of these Carolyn Carrs around to more than justify their production costs.
But “Little Black Book” does mess with the formula. The last act in particular is definitely not formulaic. In fact, it pulls out some tricks that I never expected to see in a romantic comedy. On one level, I greatly respect that. I felt the filmmakers really had guts to lay their film’s neck on the line with a non-traditional ending. On the other hand, I really didn’t like the ending. I didn’t like what it did to the characters. I didn’t like how it tied things up. In a different movie, I may have accepted it, but for this kind of film I think I was expecting a sweet dessert and was served a cucumber and vinegar salad.
And then there’s Brittany Murphy. I have to admit I like her. She’s attractive but can still play the wacky parts as well. But I also pity Brittany Murphy – and not just because she’s Eminem’s ex and is in dire need of a sandwich. I pity her because she has been given a slate of opportunities to be the next Sandra Bullock, but nothing’s ever stuck. Her resume ain’t all that great, being an alumni of films like “Just Married” and “Uptown Girls.”
So, on the star, I’m conflicted as well. I enjoy watching her in a role, but I can’t help gag at the sight of her anorexic chicken legs. I find it mildly ironic that her character helps produce a show about supermodels who “quietly barf” while Murphy herself looks like she’s guilty of sticking her finger down her throat after a meal now and again. Let’s hope Mary Kate Olsen’s room at the clinic is still available.
There was some bizarre casting coup that happened for this film. Two of the most talented female actresses of our time – Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates – are set in relatively mundane roles. They both do excellent jobs, as would be expected, but the film itself seems to be beneath them.
“Little Black Book” is a paranoid girl’s nightmare. The character of Derek isn’t all that realistic (but then again, what male character in a romantic comedy is?). Rather, he’s what every woman fears her boyfriend is – a lying, noncommittal dog who is keeping old girlfriends on the back burner. In fact, the film itself isn’t really a romantic comedy because there’s no romance in it. Rather it’s the antithesis of a romantic comedy that tries to show what a farce some relationships actually are.
So, if you can ignore the movie marketing and see it with that in your head, you might find it to be a little more than a “thumbs sideways.”