Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Dead Girl (2006) 2 of 4

**entire review contains SPOILERS**

The Dead Girl begins with Toni Collette discovering the corpse of the title, and should not be confused with Dead Girl, in which two teens discover a corpse in an underground room, let alone Gone Girl, Jennifer's Body, Warm Bodies,
The film was written and directed by Karen Moncrieff, who admits in the extras that most of the characters originated in separate screenplays, and perhaps this is why the film never really comes together.  Still, it's sincere and well-crafted, sharing characteristics with a lot of indie dramas: an impressive cast playing variously damaged characters, distressed locations in the S.W. United States, transience, poverty, family dysfunction, feminist themes, social commentary,
My rating begs the question of why I liked the last film, Chloe (with its similar plot), so much better than this one.  I think the main reason is that unlike Krista in The Dead Girl, we see Chloe in her innocence, before her dreams are shattered.  And while it's permissible for filmmakers to make a film without a traditional arc, when they do so they've set themselves a harder task.
The Dead Girl was inspired partly by a murder trial for which Moncrieff was a juror, and it skips around in both time and space to show the ripple affect of the murder of young runaway.  Collette is Arden, a timid homebody who's been damaged by the abuse of her now-elderly mother (Piper Laurie, who played a similar role in the original Carrie).  The old hag blames her daughter for finding the corpse and for the resulting media attention, but for Arden this is the last straw, and she summons the courage to let a grocery store clerk (Giovanni Ribisi) make love to her, and then to leave home for good.
Next up: Rose Byrne as Leah, college student and sister of a runaway.  This section may be the saddest, because unlike many of the characters Leah still has a chance at a great life.  She's jubilant at the news of the corpse's discovery because she believes it's her long-gone sister, and if so it would end her mother's relentless obsession with locating the sister.  It's not, so it's back to antidepressants for poor Leah.
Mary Beth Hurt plays the pathetic, co-dependent wife of a quiet man who tends to disappear without warning.  She thinks he's a cheat, but then she discovers a storage locker with mementos of missing girls.  She gets as far as the police station, then returns home and burns all the evidence rather than be left alone.
Marcia Gay Harden plays the actual mother of the murdered girl.  Reconstructing her daughter's final months, she finds Theresa (Kerry Washington), her daughter's former roommate and lover, a fellow drug-user and prostitute.  Harden is naive but kind, and she finds and literally buys her granddaughter and even offers a place to Theresa.
Skipping back in time, we finally meet Krista (Brittany Murphy) herself, a drug-addled mess with a tough-guy boyfriend (Josh Brolin), but capable of great courage and passion, risking her life to defends those she loves.  She's traveling to her daughter's birthday when her bike runs out of gas, and she accepts a ride from the presumed killer, bringing us full circle.
There's a short interview with Brittany Murphy on the disc, possibly sadder than anything in the movie.  Only while watching this did I realize just how big Murphy's eyes were.  She shows poise and radiates love and goodness as she sits like an angel wearing a tiny cross on a chain.  Knowing that she od'd, I have to wonder to what degree this "angel" was another part she was playing.  After all that success so young, I wonder if Brittany herself knew that it's ok to be broken, to ask for help, to start over.

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