U.S. Release Date: August 6, 2004
Distributor: Sony (Revolution)
Director: Nick Hurran
Writer: Elisa Bell
Composer: Christophe Beck
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Holly Hunter, Ron Livingston, Kathy Bates, Julianne Nicholson, Rashida Jones
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content/humor and language)

Jersey Girl
by Scott Holleran

Good performances, a clever story and Nick Hurran's crisp direction elevate Little Black Book from its cookie-cutter premise. Screenwriter Melissa Carter's tale of an insecure Brittany Murphy sneaking a few peeks into her boyfriend's Personal Digital Assistant is honest, light entertainment.

Murphy plays a tabloid television producer whose work for a talk show has-been (Kathy Bates, one of the screen's best actresses) brings out the worst within. Having survived her mother's (Sharon Lawrence) neurotic bromides, Murphy's character longs for lasting love and a career in broadcast journalism.

Instead, she's living in New Jersey with a hockey scout (Ron Livingston) and working with a bunch of backstabbing losers in tabloid TV. Listening to Carly Simon in emotionalist splurges when she ought to be solving her problems, Murphy's character is ripe for picking by those with nefarious motives. Aging colleague Holly Hunter, who exploits Murphy's lack of self-esteem, fulfills the role.

Murphy descends into dishonesty, sorting through her boyfriend's past relationships, dalliances and downloads by way of his Palm Pilot. From supermodels to plain Janes, she is drawn into a conspiracy to determine whether he is telling the truth and, as unlikely as it sounds, she recovers her self-esteem, gets what she deserves and discovers her ego. It isn't pretty but it is funny and Black Book, loaded with insider talk TV quips, gets better as it moves toward a surprise finale.

None of these characters is honorable but Hurran, aided by Carter's witty script, manages to transform the flawed premise into a thoughtful comedy about honesty. Despite several contradictions, Murphy's morality play is uplifting and the theme affirms the best in human nature—not the worst.

Using singer Carly Simon's music, Mike Nichols' Working Girl—a cheerfully American movie that's much better than this fluff—and setting good performances to a steady comic pace, Hurran favors realism over nihilism, and he's not afraid to demand audience attention beyond a millisecond—a radical departure from most studio dictates. By the final frame, when various vignettes come crashing together with hilarious and touching results, Black Book almost triumphs.

Almost. Murphy's facial tics, Hunter's clenched jaw, dog farts, plot holes and a doctored script keep its pages from fully opening up. While converging the satire of tabloid TV shows—and why viewers watch them—with Murphy's fate, it's clear that Black Book needed more emphasis on Murphy's career goals.

As the movie moves toward its surprise happy ending—which is more challenging to create than the predictable happy ending and much more difficult than Hollywood's usual dark fare—Bates is wonderful, idiosyncratic Murphy's more appealing than she was in Uptown Girls, and Julianne Nicholson stands out as the freckled ex-girlfriend.

Little Black Book will have couples talking about intimacy, honesty and romance—and the phrase "Omission is Betrayal." What is best about flipping through this Little Black Book is its merry persistence, not consistently demonstrated, that honesty is both practical and virtuous.

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