Little Black Book (2004) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, sexual humor, and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Holly Hunter, Ron Livingston, Kathy Bates, Julianne Nicholson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Kevin Sussman, Rashida Jones, Josie Maran, Jason Antoon, Sharon Lawrence, Carly Simon
Director: Nick Hurran
Screenplay: Melissa Carter, Elisa Bell
The following review may contain spoilers, but if you don't read this, this film just may spoil your evening. Spoiled movie or spoiled evening -- it's your choice.
Just when you think that a Brittany Murphy (Just Married, 8 Mile) movie couldn’t possibly be any worse than the horrendous Uptown Girls, along comes Little Black Book to have you thinking she has carved a mini-genre of moronic and manipulative romantic comedies all to herself.
I don’t know what the next Brittany Murphy movie will be called, but based on her track record of scripts she picks, here’s my prediction on her next flick to make us sick:
THE NEXT GENERIC BRITTANY MURPHY MOVIE
1. Brittany will be in a new town, will be a fish out of water, and in need of a job.
2. Brittany will land a job, but that job will be more difficult than she imagined.
3. Brittany will also find the man of her dreams, but keeping that man, like her job, will be more difficult than she imagined.
4. Musical interludes will emerge involving Brittany sad at the state of her existence. During these interludes, Brittany will:
a. Walk around the city, usually at night, and usually when it’s raining.
b. Stare out of her apartment window at the city, usually at night, and usually when it’s raining.
c. Stare at a wall, usually crying or just making a dopey sad face.
d. Put on progressively skimpier outfits, usually tacky.
5. Musical interludes will emerge involving Brittany elated by an upswing in the state of her affairs. During these interludes, Brittany will:
a. Walk around the city, usually during the day, and usually grinning and twirling
b. Dance around her apartment, usually grinning and twirling
c. Dance around at work, usually with others who share in her elation, all of whom
begin grinning and twirling.
d. Put on progressively skimpier outfits, usually tacky.
6. It all falls apart again. Repeat step #4.
7. Brittany finds that to not be a victim, she must be stronger, so she finally musters up some inner strength, leaving her job, boyfriend, and anything else that has been interfering with her abilities to unabashedly dance, grin, and twirl around.
8. With newfound inner strength, she finally finds happiness comes her way again. Non-stop giddiness and twirling ensues, probably to an already overused song in the movie.
So, that’s the next movie. Here’s the plot of this one: Brittany Murphy stars as Stacy, who lands a job as an associate producer for a prurient daytime talks show which is always looking for increasingly scandalous and provocative material to put out for its undiscriminating viewing audience. One of the subjects kicked around happens to be “little black books”, and the secrets men keep in them, unbeknownst to their significant others. It just so happens that Stacy gets a hold of a Palm Pilot belonging to her new beau, Derek (Livingston, The Cooler), and finds the numbers of former girlfriends, some of whom seem to still be in contact with him, although he never tells Stacy about any of them. Her new best friend and co-worker, Barb (Hunter, Moonlight Mile), urges her to try to dig up more information, getting Stacy to meet these mystery women, in order to get to the bottom of this jealousy that is consuming her.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Little Black Book that I have is that the makers of it somehow make the antagonist of the film the victim. Now, you may be thinking that Stacy’s supposedly philandering beau, Derek, is the bad guy, but no! The bad guy is none other than Stacy herself, who is so blinded by jealousy that she does everything within her power to destroy Derek’s relationships with any other female other than herself. She masquerades as different people in order to meet these women, using guile to extract information on them, and manipulates them into more bad feelings toward Derek.
She pries through Derek’s most private belongings, and is especially keen on a box clearly marked “Private Stuff”, which she insatiably tears through for more evidence to accuse him with. She even smashes his up his answering machine for fear that Derek would hear a message from his ex that she doesn’t want him to hear. Although she had no idea her behavior would be fodder for the daytime talk show, instead of showing some backbone and backing out of the show that seeks to ruin the lives of four probably innocent people, she goes through with it, raking them over the hot coals like a good little soldier. The fact that she later turns the mirror on the makers of the show is only in the aftermath of completely decimating the psyche of victimized people who deserve much better.
Yet, through all of this, director Nick Hurran seems to feel it is Stacy that is the one who suffers, and not any of the people she destroys. Stacy is the one who feels pain, walks around in anguish, and mopes about in shattered pieces. What’s laughable is that she absolutely has no reason to, since she is the catalyst for everyone’s depression. So, when she realizes that she has used, abused, and torn apart her relationship with these four people, no apologies are given. It is SHE who is the one who must overcome these things. Even though she is the jealous, scheming, manipulative witch, Stacy is just a victim. Poor, poor Stacy!
Perhaps just as offensive as the twisted themes is the half hour commercial for Palm Pilots that exists within the construct of the movie. The Palm Pilot isn’t just used as a device for Stacy to find the names, number and addresses of former girlfriends NO! Almost every conceivable cool feature of the device must come into play, so that everyone in the audience who doesn’t own one will say, “Hey, that contraption is pretty damn cool! I gotta get me one of them Palm Pilots!” Such out and out whoring to sell a product grows progressively worse as the film proceeds, where we watch all of the bells and whistles come into play. Linking up, sending photos, wireless interactions, synching with desktop computers, and almost every other neat idea must be shown for us all to see, most of which have no real relevance to the story at large. Is this a romantic comedy with a product placement tie-in, or is this really a commercial disguised as a movie? I would bet my bottom dollar that this film’s foundation started as the latter and they built a movie around it.
A lesser offense, but one which merits mentioning, is the additionally obnoxious perversion for all things Mike Nichols. There are incessant allusions to Nichols' much better film covering similar territory, Working Girl, from the poster Stacy keeps at her desk to its theme song played repeatedly, if anything, it only makes you want to wish you had put that one in your DVD player. Just by sheer coincidence, Stacy is also a fan of newswoman Diane Sawyer, alluding to wanting to meet her a dozen times. No coincidence that Sawyer just so happens to be married to none other than -- Mike Nichols!
Finally, completing the trifecta is the lovefest that Stacy and her mother have for Carly Simon and her music, which is featured in nearly every damn scene of Little Black Book, including an ill-advised cameo appearance by the actual singer, which is supposed to make for a happy ending. Thankfully, she introduces herself as Carly Simon, because audiences everywhere probably would have wondered what was so significant about Stacy meeting Steven Tyler. And just what is the tie-in to Mike Nichols? Carly sings, “Let the River Run”, which happens to be the theme song from Nichols’ aforementioned Working Girl. Just what does any of this have to do with a woman trying to find out if her boyfriend is seeing his ex-girlfriends? Oh joy! It’s absolutely nothing! It pleases only the makers of this film, and that’s all that counts!
Little Black Book is an astonishing example of just what is wrong with most Hollywood romantic comedies. It’s the kind of movie where the producers read marketing reports to find out just what will click with target audiences, and they do their very best to include all of these things in the movie, regardless of how contrived they must make the plot to include them. Marketing reports suggest these audiences like Brittany Murphy (Oh, she’s so silly!), Ron Livingston (Yay! It’s the guy from Office Space!), guys with dogs (That Bob is soooo cute!), daytime talk shows (Ricki Lake is a goddess!), and gossip (Ooh! Girlfriend, you better hold on to that man!).
Complete adherence to sights and sounds created strictly to illicit emotion in the audience, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with the story at hand, is all that is on the agenda. Just like the “think tank” that is responsible for the crass licentiousness that are daytime talk shows, the group that cobbled this patchwork of contriving commercialism and brand tested pabulum commit sins just as nefarious as the ones they rail against. Don't get suckered in.
©2005 Vince Leo