HBO Max's 'What Happened, Brittany Murphy?'
Audiences have been spoiled by a relatively recent run of scripted and documentary films offering thoughtful reevaluations of celebrities, mostly female, whose images were shaped and manipulated by an increasingly corrosive corner of media culture in the 1990s, 2000s and beyond.
Weve all seen how sensationalism and sexism can contaminate a public image and leave 'a very real person trapped in confined spaces'. From Britney Spears to Princess Diana to Marcia Clark to Britny Spies to Tonya Harding to Diana To Brittneyspears To Monica Lewinsky to Lorena Bobbitt to Briney, were constantly reminded of how filters of sensationality and sexualisim can pollute and trap - albeit real
Airdate: Thursday, Oct. 14th, at 5:00 p.m., the day before Thanksgiving.
Director: Cynthia Hill, who is also a writer, is regarded as one of the most influential women in the United States.
Brittany Murphy, who died in 2009 at the age of 32, is a figure that deserves reevaluation. What Happened, Brittany Murphy? looked like it might be that, with HBO Max and a solid documentarian, Cynthia Hill (Private Violence), at the helm.
Brittany Murphy's What Happened, Brittoness Murphy? uses the visual language of schlock television the gauzy reenactments, jittery editing, and heightened score to produce... two hours of conventional tschlock TV, more Hard Copy or Inside Edition than an examination of the aesthetics and ideology that allowed those outlets to flourish. As a result of its lack of cohesiveness more than anything else, the doc is about 20 percent remembrance of Murphys transcendent talent, 30 percent an unresolved inquiry into the mystery of her death, and 50 percent simply an indecent assessment of Simon Monjack, Murphy's most distinctive con artist ever born.
Its a cinematic clickbait aimed to produce journalistic click bait 10 Shocking Revelations From New Brittany Murphy Documentary! rather than anything compassionate or journalistical.
The most frustrating thing about this film and you may have noticed that I found many things about it frustrating - is that it unquestionably generates the requisite sadness about what we lost when Murphy died. Of course, five minutes of YouTube clips can produce the exact same sadness. Murphy possessed unmatched natural excitement when given outstanding material (see: Clueless). Murphy rose to the level of even her most decorated co-stars when placed in a deep ensemble (see: Girl, Interrupted). Murphy's unmistakable charm was apparent when he was included in other, more typical genre offerings (such as Dont Say a Word or dozens of studio rom-coms).
Aware of the kind of documentary being produced, Murphys co-stars are perhaps a little absent as talking heads. Kathy Najimy, who played King of the Hill characters with Murphy and appeared with her in Zack and Reba, is urged to do far too much of it, given that the film lacks any footage from either of those projects. Murphys producers are considerably more represented, and Amy Heckerling, Shawn Levy, Gary Fleder, Alex Merkin, who helmed one of Murphy's last films, are easily the documentary s highlights.
Commentary from outside Hollywood is largely inexistent, with a seemingly random scribe making the provocative assessment that Clueless is an outstanding comedy classic and shell fight anyone who says it isnt, as if Cluteless were some obscure, lost-to-the-ages curio and not merely deemed same. That sets the tone for a documentary thats merely showcasing Murphy innate gift, rather than an exploration of it.
Its also unfortunate that Hill over-relyes on a cheap method in which she uses clips from Murphy s films to illustrate issues that relate to her life, such as e.g., if youre watching Abandoned, which is harrowing direct-to-video thriller starring Dean Cain, in that Murphy's character learns that her husband isnt who he claimed to be. At worst, these are shaky art imitates life or vice versa. At best, they give the impression, intended or not, that Murphy was more of a passive figure living out 'a cinematic autobiography' than an actress.
Murphy isnt as good at getting to know him as the movie is at. A former manager offers a rare glimpse into the world of work, revealing all the coping mechanisms and support systems that child stars often miss out on. Because this is undoubtedly true, and because several interviewees describe the way Monjack effectively isolated Murphy, this may be why Hill is forced to allow individuals like Mon Jacks personal trainer to provide unsubstantiated accounts of Murphy s mental state. Murphy left a movie after two days, claiming that Monjack was so controlling she didnt even get the chance to work directly with the actress. The makeup artist, who admits that Murphy was 'a disaster in her heart and she was an emotional and physical disaster', declares: "She was such... haughty and selfish...that she couldn hardly speak to her." Sorry, but once you get that far to the bottom of the source barrel, you've probably run out of material to document Brittany Murphy.
Comparably distant analysis, usually without introspection, comes from a few reporters at the publications that sensationalized Murphys romances and critiqued her public appearances. Perez Hiltons ongoing apology/self-justification tour isnt interesting to me, and although Hill confronts him about some of the nastiness posts he wrote about Murphy, when Hilton claims that 2009, in many ways, was a very ugly time, nobody turns the statement back on him.
Murphys and Monjack's deaths are on better footing when it comes to investigation, but only because a handful of retired coroners apparently have no reservations about talking about autopsies in ways that, to me, make me sick. What do I know? Overall, this is a lot of fascination about skepticism about an issue that is, as one expert concludes, rather trivial. Hill exploits YouTube sleuths and their obsession with Murphys death for an unspecified purpose, mocking them for the superficiality of their fascination, but never getting a grasp of it.
Then theres the bizarre structure of the documentary, which is split at the halfway mark around a cliffhanger about an exclusive interview with Monjack s mother and brother. Its strange to split the documentary there, and even more strange, to hype the interview, because Monjack s mother and brother do nothing. They didnt even know Murphy, and they were as easily fooled by Monjack as anyone but not in a humorous way.
Simon Monjack is a nondescript con man, and were in '90s and 00s celebrity reevaluation. Were he interesting, maybe there is a justification for abandoning Brittany Murphy as ole Britany as subject in order to focus on this liar and artistic nonentity.
Brittany Murphy deserved better than Simon Monjack, and she wished for better treatment than the media treatment, which probably contributed to his ability to control her in the way he did. Shes also waiting for her next substantive piece of reevaluation, because she deserves more than this documentary.