I got knocked back by the news that Brittany Murphy has died at the age of 32, apparently of natural causes. She had a run in the early part of this decade landing lead roles in Hollywood movies. In retrospect, that was a mistake. She didn’t have the range for that, and she could never quite project anything other than that Jersey girl persona that seemed to be who she really was. Some of those movies she starred in were awful, and she was awful in them. (Just Married comes to mind.)
She was always much better in character roles, like the uncool teenager she played in Clueless and the mental patient in Don’t Say a Word, whose “I’ll never tell” catchphrase launched her to stardom and got parodied a lot. She put an angrier than usual spin on the slasher-flick heroine role in Cherry Falls, too. Perhaps, as she got older, she would have recognized where her strengths lay and taken more of these smaller parts.
If you’re looking for a good movie of hers that deserves to be discovered, check out the 2006 drama The Dead Girl. (I know, I know. I wasn’t trying for bad taste, but Murphy’s filmography also includes Drop Dead Gorgeous and a direct-to-DVD horror flick that came out a few weeks ago called Deadline. It’s easy to find these things macabre in retrospect.) Brittany Murphy indeed portrays the title character of The Dead Girl, a prostitute named Krista who’s found murdered in a field at the beginning of the movie. Filmmaker Karen Moncrieff proceeds from that to sketch character studies of various women whose lives are touched by the dead girl. The movie ends by following Krista on her last day, being fiercely protective of the Latina prostitute whom she’s in love with, and moving heaven and earth trying to hitch a ride to Norwalk, Calif. to see her son. The very last shot of the film is a freeze-frame of Krista looking radiantly happy, riding in a car driven by the man who’s going to kill her, and it’s horrifying because by then we know who this girl is and what will happen to her. I like to remember actors at their best, and that was a moment when Brittany Murphy moved me. She has left us too soon, and that makes me sad.