The Dead Girl(2007)
The life of a lonesome caretaker (Toni Collette) is turned upside down when she stumbles upon the body of a murdered girl. This discovery may provide closure for a forensics graduate student (Rose Byrne), whose sister went missing when she was a child. A housewife (Mary Beth Hurt) makes a disturbing connection between the body and her own husband, which leads her to take dark and decisive action. A mother (Marcia Gay Harden) desperately searches for answers about her runaway daughter’s life and finds answers in one of her troubled young friends. A volatile young woman (Brittany Murphy) goes on an odyssey to get a birthday present to her little girl. Together, these stories paint a devastating portrait of several women whose lives are linked by a single act of violence.
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Beautiful, unsettling, near-relentlessly grim, the movie gives a million different meanings to “missing” - and of the pic’s many dead girls, only two are literal corpses. But nonetheless, as a sober meditation on the phenomenon often referred to as Missing White Woman Syndrome, the film does little to temper that phrase’s inherent cynicism.
Not that it’s not clever – at times, the film’s emotional turns of the screw are downright ingenious. The beauty, though, is in the heartbreak of words unsaid, the things seen that can’t be unseen and yet must remain unspoken.
Masterfully spiraling ever-closer to the last hours of Brittany Murphy’s titular pretty corpse, the film progresses through melancholy curio, into heartbreaking irony, and winds up managing to wring hope from a scenario fair drenched in despair.
And after three acts of such well-turned elegy, you feel that looking the film’s hidden demons in the face may be too much to bear. It’s unfortunate, then, that the monster behind the door turns out to be somewhat pantomime: Murphy’s story just doesn’t have the pathos of those she leaves behind.
It would be easy to call this despair-porn, except that everything on offer – the unboxing of the Russian-doll plot, the perfectly-fulfilled characters, the subtle rhythms of motif and symmetry – give the story such weight and power that that despair never becomes self-serving.
It’s a film that asks a million questions, a character-study in murder-mystery costume. And yet its biggest failing is easy to pinpoint: that the one promised answer on which it seeks to hang all its lasting musings, is the only one it tries – and fails – to provide.
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The Dead Girl
The genius lies in the film's constant talking around the subject. It isn't a murder mystery. Although we learn things along the way which eventually lead us to the picture of what must... More have happened (never shown onscreen, to its credit), the 'clues' aren't the point. We never see the point of view of a crime investigator, or a journalist, as you might expect. Instead the five women whose stories are told have, in some cases, very little (the most compelling subplot, absolutely nothing) to do with the murder. We learn about a prostitute who lived with the dead girl; an eerily introspective, repressed woman (Toni Collette) whose discovery of the dead girl leads her to freedom of sorts; a forensics worker who wants resolution to her own family tragedy. And slowly a wonderful, intense, gritty picture is built up of pain and repression, love and hate, tightly-held emotions and cathartic moments.
I was almost expecting the final segment, told from the perspective of 'the dead girl' herself, to be anticlimactic after all this. That's when Brittany Murphy blew me away. No stereotypical victim here--a ballsy, maternal, foul-mouthed hooker who miraculously defied cliche. For her performance alone, this film is worth seeing! Brilliantly, the film ends with her radiant face--again, catharsis, not tragedy. The mingled hope and despair caused by her present joy and future fate is a perfect ending to the bittersweet film.Hide
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