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"Little Black Book" Morality Tale Misses the Mark by a Mile

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
"Little Black Book" Morality Tale Misses the Mark by a Mile

Release Date:  August 6, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content/humor and language)
Genre:  Comedy/Romance
Run Time: 1 hr. 46 min.
Director:  Nick Hurran
Actors: Brittany Murphy, Holly Hunter, Kathy Bates, Ron Livingston, Julianne Nicholson, Sharon Lawrence,

Stacy (Brittany Murphy) idolizes Diane Sawyer and dreams of working as a television journalist. Instead, Stacy ends up across the river in New Jersey, schlepping trash to daytime viewers of the Kippie Kann Show.  Kippie (Kathy Bates) is like many talk show hosts – anxious about her appearance, desperate for ratings and ready to steamroll anyone in the way. Associate producer Barb (Holly Hunter), who is more open about her ambitions, is just as ruthless.

Stacy is grateful when Barb teaches her the ropes, showing her how to pitch shocking shows that garner Kippie’s approval. But when Barb pushes Stacy to delve into her boyfriend’s past, with the help of his Palm Pilot, Stacy hesitates. Tempted by a chance encounter with a model who used to date Derek (Ron Livingston), however, she indulges. Using her position at the station to “interview” the ex-girlfriends, Stacy soon discovers that Derek has been spinning a web of, omissions and half-truths. Then, to her horror, she finds herself in the same position as the show’s guests.

Director Nick Hurran has a television background in England, so it’s not surprising that this film has a made-for-TV feel. The satire is snappy, though, in its mockery of talk shows and the crazy atmosphere that they create, both on- and off-camera.  Murphy, who is best known for her sing-songy, “I’ll never tell!” in “Don’t Say a Word,” pulls off the comedic elements quite well, and holds her own next to the formidable Hunter. In fact, I saw more than a little Tawanda from “Fried Green Tomatoes” when she smashed that answering machine, which had to make Bates smile. Bates does a good job herself as the toxic television host.

Unfortunately, however, the acting and humor are not enough to save the film from either the lurching plot or the sleaze that it bemoans. The main characters make bizarre choices that are illogical and don’t advance the plot (or their characters) in coherent ways. Then, a twist at the end changes the film from funny to flat in the time that it takes to return from a commercial break. Clearly, Hurran is trying out a new genre of romantic comedy – one without a happy ending. I can see all the women lining up now.

Most of the film’s humor centers around sex and the sordid subjects of talk shows, like prostitute grandmothers and marauding midgets. However, the “morals” the film preaches (like trusting the man you’re sleeping with, even though he’s lying about the time he spends with ex-girlfriends, and not prying, and being a faithful friend) are superficial at best. Stacy says, “In my search for true, I had become the lie.” Melodramatic, to say the least – and thus, the morality tale falls flat.

The film also assumes that all dating couples sleep together before marriage and that, therefore, the young girls watching it will, as well. Yet, rather ironically, it also serves as an unintentional advertisement against that. All the characters are stuck in dead-end relationships with men who can’t or won’t be faithful, having been victimized by still more men who have done the same. Yet never does the film explore the possibility that premarital sex – in relationship after relationship after relationship – might be what’s causing the real conflict for its characters. 

Worse still is the film’s humanist, existentialist worldview. In a sappy voiceover at the end, Stacy intones, “Every plan I had for my life went so unbelievably wrong. You just gotta live, and stop making plans. I believe we write our own stories, and we can’t know the end.” In other words, I just have to trust myself and the forces of the world will somehow work out my life.  Gee, I’m so encouraged.

The scary thing about this movie is that it’s targeted at teenage girls.  And because of that, this book gets a big black mark from me.

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Smoking and alcohol consumption in several scenes. Multiple references to drugs and “dope.”
  • Language/Profanity:  A dozen or so mild obscenities and a dozen more profanities. Also references to flatulence and “barfing” (bulimia).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Discussions about sex, sexuality, sexual relations and sexual situations (e.g. “wild sex,” “kinky sex”) are continuous and assumed between unmarried individuals; sexy dancing that shows woman’s panties; characters appear in underwear in several scenes (including male and female, who live together); elderly grandmother talks about her prostitution, payment for her services and getting “more if she brings a friend along”; characters talk about “stripping,” “humping” and other sexual connotations.
  • Violence:  Characters push and hit one another on daytime talk show; woman destroys answering machine with hockey stick.