Film review: The Dead Girl

The Dead Girl
Bruin Grip Services, Lakeshore Entertainment, Pitbull Pictures
STARRING Brittany Murphy, Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Beth Hurt, Rose Byrne, Kerry Washington, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Searcy, James Franco, Piper Laurie, Josh Brolin, Bruce Davison, Mary Steenburgen, Kate Mulligan
WRITTEN BY Karen Moncrieff
PRODUCED BY Eric Karten, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Kevin Turen, Henry Winterstern, Richard S. Wright
DIRECTED BY Karen Moncrieff

SHOT BY Michael Grady
EDITED BY Toby Yates
MUSIC BY Adam Gorgoni, Steve McNerney
DISTRIBUTED BY First Look International

Screened on 2006-12-16

Karen Moncrieff, former writer for Six Feet Under and director of indy flick Blue Car, helms this dreary fill-in-the-blanks drama.  Four women are connected via vignettes by a recently produced corpse of a young prostitute.  Their chapters are:

The Stranger – Toni Collette barely exists, living on a farm with nobody but her tyrannical mother, and her wasted days are refreshingly interrupted by the discovery of the corpse of the prostitute, which has the added bonus of affording her the Podunk courting of serial-killer-obsessed grocery-store clerk Giovanni Ribisi.
The Sister – Rose Byrne is a depressive Corpse Examiner (don’t know the official job title, but it includes the word Forensic) who attempts to convince her parents that the Dead Girl’s body is that of her long-gone runaway sister, and sedately and irrelevantly fucks co-worker James Franco in the process.
The Wife – Mary Beth Hurt, feminine extension of her own decaying recliner, has the life-long rhythm of daytime television interrupted when she discovers that her husband is a serial killer.  On a personal note, it was pleasing for me to see the veil finally lifted from the oft-ignored tension underlying marriages with serial killers.
The Mother – Marcia Gay Harden weepingly sleuths her way into her deceased daughter’s former hotel room and strikes up an awkward friendship with her daughter’s struggling business associate.
The Dead Girl – Brittany Murphy is a whore with a heart of gold.  While on the way celebrate her daughter’s birthday, she hitchhikes her way into the mobile lair of the beast, but not before we’re reminded that prostitutes are people too.

Moncrieff’s bleak, drawling vignettes feel much less motivated by the Grand Narrative thrust (the Dead Girl) as by the creator’s potential to write five short stories which incidentally have a common thread.  The film’s drama is nothing new, yet still is extracted from the story like a damp sponge that is continually wrung for those last precious drops.  Each woman is a blasé caricature whose attempts to make sense of her life are lame and ineffectual and, in the end, barely related to the Dead Girl.  The Dead Girl herself is a symbol of…perhaps, modern womanhood?  Violent crime?  Whatever the case, it is the primary image associated with the film, and it doesn’t help the film’s standing that that image is the mutilated corpse of a prostitute.

written by David Ashley