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Surely there’s a special place in hell reserved for Brittany Murphy and her cheerleader-on-crack approach to comedy. While proving herself to be more than adept at playing crazy (Girl, Interrupted), slutty (8 Mile), or wonderfully silent (Don’t Say a Word), Murphy has also clearly demonstrated that she and screwball just don’t mix (Just Married, Uptown Girls). And her latest, Little Black Book, has screwball written all over it.
It’s something of a surprise, then, to find that not only is Murphy relatively subdued in her role as Stacy, an operatically paranoid girlfriend, but that the movie—though far from good—has a dark undercurrent to somewhat counter all the wackiness. Sure, nearly all the characters, played by respectable types such as Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates, turn out to be truly despicable specimens, but at least they’re not Ashton Kutcher.
Co-written by Sleepover scripter Elisa Bell and newbie Melissa Carter, Little Black Book suggests that PDAs offer the 21st century’s version of a swingin’ bachelor’s, duh, little black book. To justify Stacy’s unethical behavior of using her boyfriend’s Palm Pilot to check out his old girlfriends while he’s out of town, Bell and Carter present a scenario in which she just had to do it: Stacy, in voice-over, insists that she was once happy and secure in her relationship with Derek (an underused Ron Livingston). They were “in sync, inseparable, and in love.” But if love means never forgetting to mention that you used to sleep with a supermodel, Derek didn’t get the e-mail.
When Stacy gets a job as an assistant producer on Kippie Kann Do, a talk show that features segments such as “Grandma’s a Hooker, So Handle It” and is inexplicably billed a reality show—oh, OK, it’s not just another Jerry Springer parody—she brings home a tape of a bulimia episode to study production technique. Derek lets slip that he used to date the show’s guest model, Lulu (Josie Maran), and when he won’t discuss the matter further, Stacy, in a mild and still-cute tizzy, takes the information to the office.
Stacy’s undoing is prompted by her sassy co-worker, Barb (Hunter), who convinces her that “omission is lying” and that, because Derek also hasn’t yet introduced Stacy to his parents, he must be hiding an evil past. A glance into his Palm reveals a string of old girlfriends; Barb and her co-conspirator, Ira (Kevin Sussman), practically force Stacy to invite these women for interviews under the ruse of wanting them on the show.
Little Black Book certainly sings to the choir of the monumentally insecure. And its caricature of trailer-trash yakfests is beyond tired, with Kathy Bates completely wasted as host Kippie Kann. But the movie does eventually veer into a satire about the viciousness of media types that brings a bit of unexpected depth to the my-boyfriend’s-cheating! plot. (Without revealing too much, let’s just say that our heroine has another undoing ahead of her.) Little Black Book’s most sympathetic character, Derek’s ex-girlfriend Joyce (Julianne Nicholson, briefly on Ally McBeal), also adds a little something-something: Her sweet and, yes, mature post-breakup friendship with Derek reflects a genuine love and, after Stacy proves her dopiness, is the film’s best argument for a set-’em-free relationship policy.
But, sigh, there are also dog-gas and gynecologist jokes and that embarrassing moment when Barb puts a vibrating Palm down her pants. And despite one or two incisive, funny lines—such as Ira’s call to Lulu that ends, “Excellent. We’ll do lunch—and then we’ll throw up!”—the script mostly offers howlers such as “I hate doubt!” and “In my search for truth, I became the lie.” In other words, this isn’t quite Bringing Up Baby. In fact, it isn’t quite Down With Love, either.
And then there’s Murphy. Subdued or not, she probably could have been reined in a little more. She gets to belt out Carly Simon as an act of catharsis and dance around in her underwear at a rather curious time, to a rather undanceable song. And her preference for outsized, never-changing expressions remains, even if her face here is more often frowny-sad than her usual stoned-happy. By the time she bug-eyes her way through all of Little Black Book’s 97 minutes, you’ll sympathize with her plea to Derek’s guilt-inducing dog: “Can you just not look at me like that, please? It’s making me uncomfortable.”
Touch of Pink isn’t a touch of anything—its gimmick is fully ridiculous, its plot is completely unbelievable, and its characters are totally irritating. Closeted gay Indian-Canadian Muslims might initially be thrilled to find out that they’re finally—finally!—being represented on the big screen, though when they see their ambassador here, they’ll likely beg to return to obscurity.
The Guru’s Jimi Mistry stars as Alim, an—say it again—Indian-Canadian Muslim currently living in London with his boyfriend, Giles (Kristen Holden-Reid). As the couple celebrate their anniversary, Alim’s mother, Nuru (Suleka Mathew), helps her shallow sister plan her own son’s lavish wedding back home. As Nuru mopes and cries over the apparently unattached Alim, she seems a genuinely heartsick mother. But when she decides to visit Alim, who she doesn’t know is gay, and tells her sister by announcing, “It’s my turn to win,” you get a hint of the sort of values that Touch of Pink bestows on its minority characters.
Nuru’s tears dry by the time she gets to London and proves to be an intolerant, domineering jackass. Her intention is to encourage Alim to marry soon and marry well, so she can brag and host a big expensive wedding, too. And charm ain’t her strategy: She criticizes Alim’s lovely condo because he doesn’t own a whole house, and when the white Giles apologizes for eating some of the breakfast she made for her son, saying he thought it was “for everybody,” she responds, “You people always do! Eggs, India, Africa, the Middle East…”
Imagine how Nuru would react if she learned that Giles is more than just a roommate! Ho-ho.
Alim protests to her bluster mildly, but mostly he just furrows his brow and takes it, telling more lies along the way to cover up his lifestyle. But neither Nuru’s bitchiness, nor Alim’s lack of spine, nor writer-director Ian Iqbal Rashid’s nearly wholesale theft of the plot of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet is the worst offense here: That honor would go to Kyle MacLachlan, who plays Alim’s imaginary friend. MacLachlan embodying Cary Grant watches movies with Alim, gives his “Little Samosa” bad advice, and frequently suggests that the two of them vacation in exotic places. Though MacLachlan’s impersonation is pretty good and occasionally funny, Alim’s dependence on a fake friend doesn’t exactly make our already cowardly hero more sympathetic.
Touch of Pink insists to the not-so-bitter end that it’s a feel-good comedy, so turnarounds are obviously in the offing. But just because the characters become less hateful doesn’t mean the movie does, too.CP