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HTF Review: Uptown Girls - Special Edition



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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

Jason Perez

    Second Unit

  • 310 posts
  • Join Date: Jul 06 2003

Posted December 02 2003 - 04:02 PM

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Uptown Girls: Special Edition






Studio: MGM
Year: 2003
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish & French – Stereo Surround





Uptown Girls, helmed by Boaz Yakín, the director of Remember the Titans, is a textbook example of a film that ends up being quite different than its trailer and TV spots make it appear. More often than not, the first thing I will do upon receiving a screener is pop the disc in and check out the trailer, to try and get a feel for the film. The feeling I got after watching the trailer (I had already seen TV spots for it) for Uptown Girls was “slapstick buddy comedy about an immature young woman and an overly mature little girl being matched up, and eventually becoming pals despite their very different demeanors – might be entertaining for kids”. Boy, was this feeling created by the promotional material off base! You see, although the filmmakers try, Uptown Girls does not offer much in the way of comedy, and actually treats with some issues that might be too serious for younger children, although in its own superficial way.

In Uptown Girls, Brittany Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the daughter of a rock star that meets an untimely death in a plane crash (along with her mother). Since her parents’ death, she has been living a carefree life of luxury and leisure, where every day and night is a party. All of that changes, however, when her accountant, who we never see, runs off with both her inheritance and a healthy advance on her future royalty income. This sudden development does two things: it brings about an abrupt end to Molly’s lavish lifestyle, and it also forces Molly to go out and land a job for the first time in her life.

After a brief stint in a high-end home store, Molly is set up with a job as a nanny to an uptight 8-year old named Ray (Dakota Fanning), who is emotionally detached from her mother Roma (Heather Locklear), an extremely busy record executive. Weighing even more on Ray’s young mind is the fact that her father is a home-hospitalized coma patient that has been in a vegetative state for years. Though the reasons are somewhat different, and they react to their circumstances in their own unique ways, Molly and Ray are both lonely, and trying to make sense out of the tumultuous situations in their lives. As you might expect, once their paths cross, the free-wheeling Molly tries to loosen Ray up a little bit, and help her have some fun, while Ray tries to push Molly to become a more responsible adult.

Even though this premise is far from original, it sounds sweet enough, and probably could have been quite entertaining if it had been handled better. Really, how many romantic comedies and buddy pictures are all that different, in terms of premise? It usually comes down to how well the script is written, and subsequently executed, to determine whether or not the film succeeds as entertainment. Unfortunately, Uptown Girls is all show and no go in this regard, due to especially poor writing and less than focused direction, particularly where the jokes and sight gags, which continually fall flat, are concerned.

In my opinion, the only real saving grace in Uptown Girls lies in the performances by Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning, who somehow manage to breathe a little life into the proceedings despite the many clichés they are saddled with. Murphy was a wise choice to play Molly, due to her ability to pull of physical comedy. It is just too bad her skills were underutilized in this film. Likewise, little Ms. Fanning was a perfect choice to play the neurotic, cynical, pill-popping Ray. She is, without a doubt, one of the finest child actors working today, and turns in a performance that is mature beyond her years in this film.

Sadly, although Murphy and Fanning put forth pretty good efforts, they cannot overcome the lackluster jokes and gags they are given to work with. Further, the less than memorable supporting characters and “serious” elements in the film undermine whatever amusement the two young stars manage to generate. In particular, I speak of the issues of parental neglect, trying to get a laugh out of a child saying she has been “seeing a shrink since I was three”, and Ray being faced with having to deal with the imminent death of her father. There is just not enough depth in the writing for Uptown Girls to pull off such serious dramatic elements. The predictable ending, and the speed at which people who have behaved a certain way for years suddenly learn neatly-wrapped life lessons don’t help matters much either. All in all, this modern day fairy-tale is watchable, due to the charisma of Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning, and the chemistry between their characters, but that is about it.





SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
In the bonus materials, director Boaz Yakín states that he was aiming for an “elegant” fairy-tale look for the film. Although I did not care much for the film, the incorporation of stylish, inventive shots and bold, bright colors should give the film a lovely appearance. Unfortunately, the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer created by MGM is not without a few faults that detract from Uptown Girls’ visual beauty.

To begin with, contrast is poor, making it difficult to make out details in some of the more dimly lit environments, like Molly’s apartment. Even worse, there is quite a bit of noise in solid whites and other light colors, which unfortunately includes the characters’ faces on occasion. For example, watch carefully during the opening sequence as the camera zooms in on a photograph of a very young Molly in a white T-shirt. Ugly!

The image also suffers from an excessive amount of grain, which serves as quite a distraction during many sequences. There is also a touch of edge enhancement evident, although the resultant halos on dark/light transitions never become too much of a distraction. Perhaps most surprisingly though, the image is not very clean for a recent release, and over Uptown Girls’ running time, I noticed the appearance of quite a few spots in the image.

Fortunately, the visual end of things is not a complete disaster. Color reproduction is quite good, with pristine whites and vibrant colors that do not bleed into each other displayed frequently in the wardrobes, New York cityscapes, or the characters’ homes. Flesh tones are also displayed fairly accurately, and the generally solid black level provides adequate shadow detail.

Sadly, the positive aspects of this disc’s video quality are overwhelmed by its negatives, and I think that MGM’s transfer for Uptown Girls does not effectively reproduce the “fairy-tale” look that this film is supposed to have. Specifically, I found the image to have a distinctly digital appearance, which was disappointing, considering how well MGM seems to handle most of its releases. Perhaps us movie buffs have been spoiled by the generally excellent visual appearance of films (even catalog titles) being released on DVD these days, but for a recent production, Uptown Girls’ video quality is a letdown.




WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack for Uptown Girls seems to be a satisfactory representation of the film’s source material, but its conservative nature did leave me a bit under-whelmed. Specifically, most of the film’s audio information is presented through the front left, front right, and center channels, and the soundstage is a little restrictive, although that does not impact the light-pop soundtrack too much.

In this mix, the rear channels are confined to the reproduction of ambient noise during nightclub scenes, or providing a little more room for the film’s music to breathe. Likewise, bass response is a touch less than average. Although I was not looking for room-shaking bass, since it is not in the source material, I was disappointed that the low end did lacked the definition and punch to appropriately enhance the pop tunes that predominate Uptown Girls, or adequately re-create the feeling of being in a dance club.

On the other hand, dialogue is presented faithfully, with only the slightest bit of high end roll-off. It is also a plus that it is never a chore to figure out what is being said, even during the crowded nightclub sequences. Overall, I guess I would have to say that this Dolby Digital soundtrack should more than satisfy most people in this film’s demographic, but audiophiles watching this film will probably be left wanting.




EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


“The Lowdown on Uptown” Featurette:
This 13-minute featurette was, in my humble opinion, the most worthwhile extra on the disc, due to its surprisingly candid and “unfluffy” nature...relatively speaking, anyway. After a welcome by Brittany Murphy, director Boaz Yakín discusses the essence of the film, namely the relationship that develops between the characters Molly and Ray. He then reveals that young Dakota Fanning was the first actor to sign on, and her presence was a big reason the movie was green-lighted. He also talks about the conscious effort to give the film an elegant and fluid look.

The principal cast members, Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Donald Faison, and Marley Shelton, among others, are all interviewed as well. Each participant discusses the film in a thoughtful yet fun way, and Dakota Fanning gives an amusing account of the paparazzi trying to photograph her and Brittany Murphy.

Given my assessment of the film, I was pleasantly surprised to find this featurette to be rather entertaining. On a different note, I should point out that the interviews with Boaz Yakín and Marley Shelton appear to be quite blurry, but the visuals during the rest of the featurette are just fine.


Deleted Scenes
There are a total of thirteen deleted scenes, most of which are really just extensions of scenes that are in the film. Indeed, I do not recall any being much more than one minute in length. In my opinion, most of these extensions to scenes were wisely cut, as they would not have added much to the film, except to make Molly seem even more “easy” and desperate to land Neal than she already is. Each scene can be viewed individually, or they can all be played continuously, although you will have to go to the second page of the deleted scenes menu to select the “Play All” option. The deleted scenes are entitled:

--- “Mu Goes to Doggie Aerobics”
--- “Party Shots”
--- “Nas”
--- “Molly Confesses to Ingrid”
--- “Lights Out, Food Comes”
--- “Bubbly and Foie Gras”
--- “On the Table”
--- “Molly Distraught in the Hallway”
--- “In the Sheets”
--- “Date With David “Boomer” Wells”
--- “Molly and Ray Get Lost”
--- “Elke Comes for a Surprise Visit”
--- “Huey Kicks Molly Out/Underground Club Scene”


“Rockin’ Style” Featurette
In this brief featurette, costume designer Sarah Edwards takes viewers through the creation of several of the costumes worn by various characters in the film. She also discusses her consultations with Director Boaz Yakín that led to the development of particular styles of clothing for the two leading ladies.


Music Video for “Time”
The music video for the song “Time”, by recording artist Chantal Kreviazuk, is included.


Video Stills Gallery
This extra features approximately 50 color production photos, which play over the top of a piece of music. Personally, I would have liked the opportunity to peruse these photos in the usual photo-gallery fashion. The way they are presented, some of them flash by so quickly that you can only see them by freeze framing.


Trailers and Promotional Materials
The theatrical trailer and a soundtrack spot for Uptown Girls has been included, as well as trailers for A Guy Thing, Heart Breakers, and Legally Blonde 2. In addition, MGM offers promotional trailers entitled “MGM Means Great Movies”, and “|Contemporary Romance”, and the cover art for five other MGM DVD releases.



SCORE CARD

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THE LAST WORD
Though Uptown Girls is billed as a comedy that might appeal to adolescents, the writers do not provide enough to laugh at, and the attempt to give the film a little weight by having the characters deal with some pretty serious issues comes across as both forced and heavy-handed. Despite the best efforts of Dakota Fanning and Brittany Murphy, the script just doesn’t cut it, and the ending is far too mundane and predictable. For all of these reasons, this movie falls flat.

In terms of presentation, the DVD release for Uptown Girls is almost as disappointing as the film itself. For a newer production, especially one crafted to have an “elegant, fairy-tale look” the video quality borders on unacceptable, and is certainly no better than average. In addition, despite a decent mini-documentary, and generally satisfactory audio quality, the other bonus features are largely made-up of forgettable deleted scenes and superfluous promotional material.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is not quite bad enough to be un-watchable, but I find myself hard pressed to recommend this to anyone but the most die-hard Brittany Murphy or Dakota Fanning fans. There are simply too many good family friendly buddy comedies out there already…

Stay tuned…



Release Date:
January 6th, 2004
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