About a girl: Me, you, a pig named Moo
What do a child and the US Army have in common?
Never mind, the possible answers are too mind-boggling. I'll just give you mine: In the movies, they're both vehicles for turning perpetual adolescents into responsible adults, whether the protagonist is male (About a Boy) or female (Private Benjamin).
Brittany Murphy's only brush with the military was losing Ashton Kutcher to "G.I. Jane," and that was offscreen. She's currently growing up in the clutches of Dakota Fanning, who pound for pound may be the best actress alive, in Uptown Girls.
The story is totally formulaic and holds no surprises, but formulas keep getting reused because they work. This one is like Freaky Friday without the switching. From the start, Ray (Fanning) is eight going on 80, and Molly (Murphy) is 22 going on 12.
Molly's parents died when she was Ray's age, and she never grew up. She hasn't had to, because her rock-star father left enough money to keep her in grand style forever– or it would have lasted forever if the guy handling the money hadn't run off with it, leaving Molly suddenly destitute.
Ray's father's in a coma. Her mother, Roma (Heather Locklear), runs a record label and rarely sees her daughter, who goes through three nannies a month and has learned to be self-sufficient. The connection is made through Huey (Donald Faison), a record producer who's one of Molly's best friends, and the story goes where it must from there.
In other words, Molly becomes Ray's nanny and, after a rocky start, helps the girl find her inner child while Ray inspires her to care about a creature smaller than herself but larger than her pet pig, Moo.
At a party for her 22nd birthday, Molly throws herself at Neal Fox (Jesse Spencer), a young singer-songwriter Huey wants to produce. Huey warns her, "He's celibate– like Morrissey. He's all about the music." But Molly just sees "a rock-and-roll poet sex god" and breaks down Neal's regimen of self-denial.
The romance– well, they take turns using each other; I guess that passes for romance in the 21st century– is on-again, off-again. At one point, Neal veers in a Breakfast at Tiffany's direction away from Holly Goheavily.
Spencer carries off his role adequately, and Locklear isn't bad in a more subtle performance than she gets to give on TV. Faison tries to provide Huey with some personality, which distinguishes him from Molly's other best friend, Ingrid (Marley Shelton).
But Uptown Girls is really about the girls; the rest of the cast, like New York, is just part of the scenery. Murphy has never been more appealing– perhaps too much so because she makes us like her character before she becomes likable. Fanning continues to amaze with her range, although she may want to stick to acting and not try to make ballet a full-time career.
As good as the actresses are individually, they're less convincing together. They have just a little more chemistry than Ben and Jen in Gigli. We only believe them because the formula says we must.
Even though one of the main characters is an eight-year-old girl, you may want to think twice about bringing eight-year-old girls to see Uptown Girls. It's rated PG-13 for a reason. There are no sex scenes, but it's clear that Neal has sleepovers with more than one woman, and young Ray gets to deliver the funniest line, explaining why she got into a fight at school:
"Her au pair said my new nanny was a slutbag whore."