Movies Little Black Book (PG-13)

Holly Hunter plays the Devil (naturally, the most interesting character) in the otherwise convoluted, boring and contrived romance-less uncomedy Little Black Book.

Though, possibly, Holly Hunter plays God. Or some sort of evil fairy godmother.

In any event, her performance, which starts out as one of those gotta-pay-my-bills-somehow sidekick roles, slowly over the course of the movie becomes so bizarre and meta that you wonder if the character didn’t accidentally wander into the script from another movie.

Here’s the movie’s premise: Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy) is an ambitious nitwit who wants to be/ work with Diane Sawyer and has no idea how to conduct an adult relationship. She meets and has one happy year of coupledom with Derek (Ron “I can feel my career slipping away” Livingston) but finds herself questioning certain aspects of their relationship once she finds out that he once dated supermodel Lulu (Josie Maran). Why, for instance, won’t he tell her anything about his previous girlfriends? Why has he never introduced her to his parents? Why can’t she recognize a guy just out for a good time (in which case, damn, go with it) when she sees one?

Meanwhile, Stacy has climbed her way into an assistant producer job at The Kippie Kahn Show. The alternate future of how Oprah would have ended up had she not retooled her image into that of Saint Girlfriend, Kippie Kahn (Kathy Bates) is a one-time successful media personality who now hosts a circling-the-drain Jerry Springer-like show out of Trenton. The staff of this faltering show is full of insecurities and betrayals, such as the show’s executive producer who is running a sub rosa campaign to oust Kippie. Stacy’s peers include a bevy of attention-seeking would-be producers, including the hyper-attentive, mind-like-a-steel-trap, cool-exterior-having Barb (Holly Hunter). One shaky but talented, smart but not vicious enough assistant producer has an idea to do a show called Little Black Book, wherein girlfriends do a forensic study of their boyfriends’ past via the girls they’ve previously dated. The idea gets a pass as the subject for the big live show for the sweeps period but it gets Stacy thinking. Now that she knows one of Derek’s girlfriends and has easy access to her through the show—Lulu did a barfing-supermodels episode for a previous sweeps—she considers the plan. What if she called up his three most recent girls? Lulu, the self-promoting gyno/ author Rachel (Rashida Jones) and the nice, funny, smart, warm chef Joyce (Julianne Nicholson)—a character who, serving as Holly Hunter’s humanity-having opposite, also probably wandered in from another movie. (Though, unlike the post-modern, self-referential satire that Hunter’s character belongs in, Nicholson’s character clearly belongs in one of those sweet, quirky, actually romantic, genuinely funny indies.) What if she got them all to talk about their experiences with Derek? Would it be wrong? Would it be spying? Or would it be a clever, resourceful way to get precious information about this man who could possibly be (though so clearly isn’t) The One? For example, in those previous lives, did he cheat? Was he mean? Who left whom?

And where, you might ask, is Derek in all this? Away on business. Or, in another room. Or dead, for all his presence truly matters in the movie. This is an all-chick affair. (Poor Ron Livingston. Watch Swingers. Watch Office Space. Watch Band of Brothers. Boy’s got potential. But after that stint on Sex and the City and now this… Dude, do you really want to be the next Hugh Jackman?)

Though, technically, Brittany Murphy is the star of this dark and scary ride to nowhere, she fades away almost as fast as poor Mr. Livingston. After all, her character is really just an amalgamation of wannabes—she wants to be Diane Sawyer, she wants to be Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (we even get one incredibly cloying scene where Murphy gazes lovingly at a Working Girl poster, her face reflected in it as she expounds on its greatness), she wants to be Carly Simon, in whose light-rock, semi-inspirational work this movie is soaked. Though a ballad-singing, Charlie-Gibson-flirting-with Melanie Griffith would truly be a sight, that is hardly a promising pot of gold at the end of the character arc. Thankful, Brittany Murphy doesn’t grow that way. Or, really, at all. In fact, just as the movie starts to get weirdly interesting, Murphy seems to vanish from the screen (only to reappear in the hokey, tacked-on ending).

The story’s true struggle is therefore left to two characters who never really interact. Two characters who truly have no business in a movie this crappy, but appear anyway and liven it up.

Joyce is the good angel—who makes the scary, sharp-toothed monster that is the Ex-Girlfriend seem human (an amazing thing because, even as it becomes obvious that she was also Derek’s True Love and Soul Mate, she is still not only a relatively complex tertiary character but also a genuinely cool chick). And Barb is the bad angel—who, despite her friendship with Stacy and really amazingly under-control bra-strap-length hair, is completely brilliant in an analytical sense but lacks even the appearance of compassion. Or maybe she’s the Devil, who plays a hissing Iago (as I’ve seen one article compare her to) only without the personal interest and the jealousy, urging the dull-eyed Stacy on in her worse inclinations and her evil deeds.

Or maybe she’s a truly Old Testament version of God, who travels the earth teaching each cutthroat industry An Important Lesson in the most messed-up burn-this-village-to-save-it way possible.

In any event (and I supposed my preoccupation with her character will basically kill any surprise from the movie’s big twist so, though a bit late, SPOILER ALERT), whatever Hunt’s character is, whatever dark humor and bizarre commentary she’s supposed to deliver or represent, she’s truly the only thing interesting about this juvenile, plastic, ready-for-direct-to-video flick.

But sadly, not interesting enough to make the movie worth seeing.

—Amy Diaz


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