Thrift Store Wigs, Absolutely No Heart: The Brittany Murphy Story
by Marie Lodi
Lifetime has recently been focusing on biopics instead of their usual awesomely bad cyberseduction-forbidden-priest-romance fare. Last year, they released The Anna Nicole Story; despite a decent cast (Adam Goldberg, Cary Elwes) and this shot of Martin Landau as J. Howard Marshall, the film fell flat. So far, this year we’ll see The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Movie, an unauthorized Aaliyah flick to look forward to (or fear), and a Whitney Houston movie directed by none other than Angela Bassett.
Lifetime’s latest release, The Brittany Murphy Story, seemed like it came out of nowhere. And it did; The Brittany Murphy Story was shot in just two weeks, with the lead actress having only two days to prepare for the role. If I was going to sum up my review in one sentence, that sentence would be: this movie was a depressing three-ring circus with lots of thrift store wigs and not much heart.
It begins with Brittany (Amanda Fuller), wearing bad wig #1, as a teenager living in New Jersey. She convinces her mother Sharon (Sherilyn Fenn, in bad wig #2 ) to move to Los Angeles with the hopes of starting her acting career. Soon Brittany is booking commercials and appearing on the show Drexell’s Class. She wins the pivotal role of new girl Tai in Clueless, the role that introduced most of us to Brittany.
On set, Brittany overhears a crew member saying cruel things about her weight and laments that she is not a pretty tall blonde, like her co-star Alicia Silverstone, played by Karynn Moore (whose wig might actually be the most frightening of all). Later, Brittany starts wearing her hair straight and dyes it blonde, transforming herself into the Hollywood starlet she always wanted to be. That’s when her trouble begins.
Brittany becomes a darling of the paparazzi and eventually Simon Monjack, a paparazzi who nonetheless, warns Brittany that the paparazzi “are not your friends!” After a failed, but lovingly goofy, relationship with Ashton Kutcher, Simon eventually becomes Brittany’s husband.
After their wedding, Brittany’s career goes into a downward spiral. She is fired from two movies, battles drug addiction rumors, and becomes paranoid that people are after her, when she hears what she thinks are gunshots in her neighborhood. She becomes severely ill but refuses to see a doctor. On December 20, 2009, Brittany dies in her home. Her death is explained in the credits to be caused by pneumonia and anemia. Six months later, Simon died from the same causes.
Brittany and her mother were quite close, and the movie portrays them as having a dynamic more codependent than a normal mother-daughter relationship. At the time of her death, Brittany, Sharon, and Simon were all living together in that same house. Let’s not forget the weird photo that Sharon and Simon took after Brittany’s death. Sharon reportedly sold many of Brittany’s personal belongings — including her passport. Lifetime has not revealed who their sources were for the film, so it’s curious where they received the info for Brittany’s private life.
Amanda Fuller, best known for Last Man Standing, was cast as Brittany, despite bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the late actress. She may have had Brittany’s trademark giggle down, but much of her vocal performance remained in the thick New Jersey accent Brittany used during her performance as Tai, which was odd since Brittany didn’t use that accent in real life. The best performance might actually go to Ashton Kutcher’s (Adam Hagenbuch) trucker hat, which had the words “This Is My Trucker Hat” emblazoned on it (to prevent theft, I’m sure.) It had its big closeup during a scene where “Ashton” placed it on top of a lampshade after a wild night of partying symbolizing their impending breakup due to lifestyle differences: Ashton liked to party; Brittany liked to stay at home and hang out with mom.
Brittany’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, is setting Twitter ablaze with his anger. He’s pissed that Lifetime chose to make this cacadooky movie about his daughter and wants justice for her mysterious death. Last year, Bertolotti sent Britney’s hair and tissues to a company for testing, and a report showed that there were ten different metals present in Brittany’s system at the time of her death. Even with this new information, the Los Angeles Coroner has no plans to exhume Brittany’s body for further investigation. There’s even a petition to open the case.
Brittany’s story is tragically filled with so many question marks. Perhaps that’s one reason why this biopic leaves a bitter taste and a sad feeling, far from the guilty pleasure giddiness a Lifetime Original Movie usually provides.
I fondly remember watching an episode of MTV’s Diary years ago that showed Brittany as a ball of positive energy. She drank a shit-ton of Mountain Dew and was stoked on her new house (she had bought it from Britney Spears) and the fancy hotel rooms she was staying in. Brittany seemed like a down-to-earth person who counted Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers as one of her favorite beauty products. After she died, I went straight to the drugstore and bought a Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker in a tribute.
Maybe instead of watching The Brittany Murphy Story, honor her by streaming Clueless, Uptown Girls, and Little Black Book, and these videos that show Brittany as she should be remembered: a bubbly woman with an infectious laugh, boundless talent, and who could really belt out a tune.
Marie Lodi is the president of a pizza club in LA. She is also a staff writer and the resident style advice columnist at Rookie. Richard Simmons once said she moved like a stripper. Read more of her stuff at agentlover.com and follow her everywhere @agentlover.