Usually a line such as “Are you on crack?” is played facetiously. Especially in a comedy—and especially when delivered by an 8-year-old. But in Uptown Girls, the exasperated inquiry is pronounced with such gravitas that the audience, already puzzling over where lead Brittany Murphy got her inspiration to play twitchy rich-girl-turned-baby-sitter Molly Gunn, will likely think, Ahhh, so that’s it! Of course, for some, the epiphany might not come until “Her au pair said my new nanny was a slutbag whore!” Both these pearls of perception come from Ray (Dakota Fanning), the tiny adult whose difficult personality spurs a high turnover in caretakers. Molly, a late rock legend’s daughter, is forced to take the job after her accountant runs off with the family fortune. The film’s most obvious problem is the irksome personalities of these two characters: Ray is an uptight smartass, while Molly is the type who spends her fab 22nd-birthday celebration asking her friends, “Am I hideous?” The difference in each character’s digestibility, though, lies in the actresses. Fanning has already proved her talent playing opposite Sean Penn in I Am Sam and is just as impressive here, easily reaching beyond her years to embody an unlikely grown-up. Murphy, however, urgently needs to get out of 8 Mile mode. Though she displayed versatility in such pre-Eminem films as Clueless, Riding in Cars With Boys, and Girl, Interrupted (as well as in her hilarious King of the Hill vocal work), she now can’t seem to rise above the trashy persona to which her kohl-eyed, slack-jawed face lends itself so well. The screenplay, written by three mostly green scripters, descends predictably into sentimentality, with the ultimate justification of the characters’ jerkiness being that everyone is just, y’know, scared. By the time Molly takes Ray on a laughably symbolic spin on Coney Island’s teacup ride and the camera trains on her gape-mouthed expression—meant either as empathy for Ray’s pain or a sudden desire for some amusement-park nachos—you’ll be scared, too. —Tricia Olszewski

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