TV Review: ‘The Brittany Murphy Story’

"The Brittany Murphy Story" TV Review

As bad as career opportunities got for late actress Brittany Murphy, at least she never had to make something like “The Brittany Murphy Story” — a bottom-feeding slice of tacky TV movie exploitation that transforms a true Hollywood tragedy into tedious trash. A misleading ad campaign stirred buzz that this Lifetime premiere might milk the mysterious circumstances of Murphy’s untimely passing for armchair murder mystery, but there’s nothing quite so salacious at work in the final product. Instead, the telepic’s more pedestrian offenses include embarrassing scripting, awkward performances and threadbare production values. Fortunately, unlike Murphy, it should be quickly forgotten.

One of Murphy’s last roles coincidentally was as the star of a relatively classier Lifetime pic, 2009’s Nora Roberts adaptation “Tribute.” Apparently, the story of her life doesn’t merit anything in the same league, as no expense or effort appears to have gone into this bargain-basement, cringe-inducing portrait of shattered Hollywood dreams. As biopics go, it makes Lifetime’s recent “Anna Nicole” look like “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

The problems begin with an unfortunately cast Amanda Fuller (one of Tim Allen’s daughters on “Last Man Standing”) as Murphy. With no obvious physical resemblance, Fuller struggles mightily to pull off a credible imitation let alone channel any of Murphy’s unique charm or star quality. Admittedly, that would be an uphill battle for any actress, especially given the severe limitations of the production.

Peter Hunziker and Cynthia Riddle’s script speeds through the events of Murphy’s professional and personal life to chart a humdrum roller-coaster ride of highs (“Clueless,” “Don’t Say a Word,” dating Ashton Kutcher) and lows (getting fired after one day on low-budget thriller “The Caller,” being labeled the “Jordache Junky,” rushing into marriage with opportunist Simon Monjack).

Everything is filtered through Murphy’s tight-knit relationship with her mother, Sharon (Sherilyn Fenn). While hinting that their co-dependent connection wasn’t exactly beneficial to Murphy’s worklife, the filmmakers steer clear of outright judgment, and present Sharon as a largely supportive if often helpless cipher.

The aim isn’t to smear anyone’s reputation, but instead leave auds sympathizing with (and maybe shaking their heads over) Murphy’s struggles. Tabloid rumors of drug abuse, eating disorders and wild partying are dutifully treated as pure gossip. She gets super skinny to land her dream role as Janis Joplin (in a biopic that remains unrealized) and develops a dependence on painkillers, but never touches illegal drugs due to a heart condition and chronic anemia that frequently leave her weak and unsteady.

The pic similarly plays it safe when it comes to Monjack (Eric Petersen of “Kirstie”), portrayed as a controlling figure who desperately believes he can reboot Murphy’s career after major-studio offers dry up and she’s dropped by her reps. Monjack’s well-documented history of scamming friends and loved ones is acknowledged, and at one point, he admits he sees himself as a “sociopath,” but his genuine devotion to Murphy is never really questioned.

Whatever “The Brittany Murphy Story” gets right or wrong about Murphy’s life, there’s little feeling anyone involved knows anything more about the subject than what could be gleaned from red-carpet interviews and coverage of her death. In fact, much of Murphy’s rise and fall is chronicled through poorly re-staged red carpets, all of which seem to be have been shot on a single unconvincing set. It’s just one of many ways director Joe Menendez (whose ample kids TV credits include “Big Time Rush” and “Unfabulous”) does nothing to elevate the material.

Outside of a couple of laughable sequences on the set of “Clueless” (complete with atrocious stand-ins for Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash), there’s no attempt to recreate any of Murphy’s screen work. Her offscreen relationship with “Just Married” co-star and all-around good guy Kutcher (an OK Adam Hagenbuch, letting his trucker hats do most of the work) emerges as a major subplot, while two brief engagements to less-famous men go unmentioned.

“You’re either up or you’re down, there’s no in-between,” Fuller-as-Murphy notes early on, explicitly stating the film’s less-than-enlightening point of view on Hollywood. In that case, it’s hard to get much lower than “The Brittany Murphy Story.”

TV Review: 'The Brittany Murphy Story'

(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. Sept. 6, 8 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Marvista Entertainment in association with LeGrand Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Sharon Bordas, Michael Moran, Fernando Szew; producer, Carrie LeGrand; line producer, Neobe Velis; director, Joe Menendez; writers, Peter Hunziker, Cynthia Riddle; camera, Kris Carrillo; production designer, Daniel Berger; editor, Jared Bentley; music, Todd Haberman; casting, Lindsay Chag. 120 MIN.

Cast

With: Amanda Fuller, Sherilyn Fenn, Eric Petersen, Adam Hagenbuch, Chloe Crampton, Amy Davidson.

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  1. jcibme says:

    Worst movie EVER!! WTH was up with the overweight actress?? It was more like a Sharon propaganda movie to throw people off the fact that she killed her daughter and son-in-law Simon!! She is behind that movie!! It wasn’t enough that Brittney suffered so much while she was alive, that woman had to smear her name in death!!

  2. gypsarella says:

    I thought the actress did an admiral job. She had those little quirks Brittany did, with the slightly jerky neck and head movements. I was able to hear so many of the halting speech and way she made a sentence with her distinct tone, that if I closed my eyes I wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t the original. I’m sure the fact that they couldn’t show any scenes from Clueless had to do with a license and copyright law, not their choice. But I got the whole gist of who Britt was and how vulnerable she was in a harsh, cut throat business. Since her untimely death so many other young celebrities have accidently passed away from unintentional prescribed medicine overdoses. It’s too easy when you’re not told directly exactly what not to mix to take something for pain, another for anxiety, and another for allergies, especially when your respiratory system is already compromised by illness, like pneumonia.

  3. Gail Raimondo says:

    I’m truly sry but I feel that they didn’t show the true Brittany Murphy I will always remember she was a absolutely beautiful and amazing person sent from heaven and should always be remembered that way maybe if she was a PARTY GIRL she would of got more respect SHARE ON ALL OF YOU because she is a true person and never a FAKE SHARE R.I.P. BRITTANY MURPHY NOW YOU ARE FREE FLY SWEETHEART AND BE THE ANGEL YOU WERE TO ME !!!!!

  4. vivian says:

    I watched the recent movie about Brittany Murphy’s life and if the movie was based on facts, then I blame her mom for what happened. If Brittany’s mom would have tried to be her mom instead of her best friend, maybe Brittany would be alive today; she should have called the hospital instead of obeying her daughters wishes for the sake of her reputation; people talk no matter what and dying for the sake of saving a reputation is not worth it. Brittany could have been treated at the hospital before her illness got worse, and to me, her mom is the blame. Forget about Brittany’s husband, he could have had his own agenda, but her mom gave birth to her and loved her and raised her and should have protected her instead especially at a moment where she should have been forceful in order to save her daughter’s life. It’s obvious to me that her mom forgot that she was Brittany’s mom. I’m a mom myself and if disobeying my child in order to save her life meant that my child wouldn’t speak to me again, so be it, at least she would be alive.

  5. mike says:

    If this is what lifetime is dishing out , then heaven help the Whitney Houston bio pic in the works!

    • Miss M says:

      I totally agree with you, who cares if she gets mad! I thought the mother was being extremely foolish! So sad for her, as she now has to live with her poor decision the rest of her life!

    • Linz says:

      Lifetime didn’t make this film, they just bought the rights to it. And while Lifetime movies are generally bad, they’re more “funny bad” than this awful movie. And I think Angela Bassett is working on the Whitney and Bobby movie, so hopefully that will help make that film a lot more watchable than this one!

  6. laury stallings says:

    I have to say this is the most disappointing so called documentary I have ever seen.

  7. Kat says:

    Thanks For the Heads up, was going to watch! Not now! She was an amazing actress and deserves Better. From my own experience, I think Her mom was on the right road to figuring out what Happened. It’s so sad, that all Her Hard work and amazing presence on screen Has Been marred By a movie of the week. Again Thanks

  8. NeNe says:

    I’m watching it now. I had been eagerly waiting to see it because I liked Brittney Murphy. I keep looking for any way in which the actress has captured or channels Brittney Murphy. Sadly, I don’t see it. Really, really bad casting.

    • Phil R. says:

      NeNe: same here. I really think she was very talented… that’s why they made a biopic about her. If you’ve never seen her as a 1941 Polish concentration camp victim (in the story, she survives, and as an adult is played by Louise Fletcher) that I mentioned below, here’s the link again – it’s on YouTube in its entirety! ENJOY. You won’t recognize her, this is hardly a glamorous role, but it’s an intense dramatic role which shows what she was capable of. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_FQ0kdVl1w

  9. Phil R. says:

    I’m watching it now. NOT a good movie. I’m waiting, though, hoping the movie will reference what I consider Brittany’s finest role: as “Rivka,” a young Polish concentration camp victim in “The Devil’s Arithmetic.” Kirsten Dunst starred but it was Brittany Murphy’s performance that was so riveting and made me take notice of her talent. If you haven’t seen The Devil’s Arithmetic, the movie is on YouTube in its entirety, this is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_FQ0kdVl1w

  10. rocky-o says:

    it’s sad how this life turned out…i remember her on an episode of ‘nash bridges’ and she was absolutely dynamic…her performance stood out to this day…and she was beautiful…and brunette…before the terrible weightloss and hairdying…if you get a chance, check out the episode titled ‘night train’…you’ll get to see what should be her legacy…

  11. jhs39 says:

    I guess her dad was right then.

    • Phil R. says:

      rocky-o: see my comment above yours, just posted. I included the link to what I consider Brittany’s best performance – the character she played was SO “against type” and she did an awesome job.

    • joey OBrien says:

      Her dad has always been right and he has proof to back it up. That’s what got me. Her father has always been in her life, yet people who know absolutely nothing and go off half-cocked on rumors and lies.

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