Sunday, December 20, 2009

R.I.P: Brittany Murphy (1977-2009)

I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Brittany Murphy or her grieving loved ones when I say that, for the past several years, I could never read or hear her name, not even today, without thinking of 9/11.

Mind you, it wasn't her fault: She just happened to be one of the stars of Edward Burns' Sidewalks of New York, a Woody Allenesque comedy that was supposed to open during the summer of 2001 -- but was shifted to Sept. 21, as I explained in my original review of the film, "based on the debatable yet not-unreasonable notion that movies made by, for and about grown-ups get more attention in the fall, after the youth-skewing popcorn pictures of summer have run their courses." Unfortunately "the terrible events of Sept. 11 made the Paramount decision-makers more than a little skittish. They were nervous about how audiences might respond to any movie, even one as innocuous as this one, with 'New York' in its title." So they wound up pushing it back to November -- at which time, alas, it opened and closed very quickly.

But wait, there's more: During the summer press junket for Sidewalks, Murphy spoke enthusiastically about another upcoming project, Don't Say a Word, a thriller in which she played -- as you can see in the above photo -- a severely traumatized  mental patient. She was proud of her performance (and rightly so, I later discovered) and hoped the film -- which, like Sidewalks, was set in New York, would be appreciated by critics. But, again, unfortunately: Don't Say a Word hit theaters nationwide on Sept. 28. It sold a lot of tickets, but it also upset a lot of viewers. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times noted in his opening day review:  "Like a lot of other movies opening this fall, Don't Say a Word suffers from the timing of its release. After Sept. 11 there may not be much appetite for a thriller about a day of stress and distress in Manhattan. A climactic scene in which a bad guy is buried alive in an avalanche of dirt, dust and falling beams inadvertently conjures up some horrific associations..."

Even so, let me reiterate: None of this could, or should, be blamed on Murphy, an actress whose work I generally admired -- and I use the qualifier "generally" only because I saw Just Married. She was sensationally sexy yet also affectingly poignant in 8 Mile -- and similarly impressive in offbeat indie efforts such as Spun and The Dead Girl. Her death this weekend at the ridiculously young age of 32 reminds us that few things are more tragic than a promise that will remain forever unfulfilled.

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