August 2004
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'Open Water' A Thriller With Bite

Demme’s New ‘Manchurian Candidate’
a Taut Thriller

Don't Open 'Little Black Book'

It Takes ‘The Village’ to Disappoint an Audience

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Don’t Open ‘Little Black Book’
by Jeremy Mathews

“Little Black Book”
Revolution Studios/Columbia Pictures
Directed by Nick Hurran
Written by Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell
Produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Deborah Schindler, William Sherak and Jason Shuman
Starring Brittany Murphy, Kathy Bates, Holly Hunter, Ron Livingston, Josie Maran, Julianne Nicholson, Rashida Jones and Stephen Tobolowsky

(out of four)

The makers of “Little Black Book” appear to have started off with the noble intention of making an unpredictable story of women in the work place and trust in a relationship. Unfortunately, the end result is such a diluted work of boredom that wastes all its potential by trying to please everyone. What could have been an unpredictable, quirky romantic comedy lacks all of those qualities.

The movie looks at trust in a relationship by turning its main character into a palm-organizer spy who tracks down her boyfriends’ exes to find out what went wrong in his past relationships. Brittany Murphy plays a Carly Simon-obsessed wannabe TV journalist named Stacy, who learned from her loving mother (Sharon Lawrence) to fail at all her relationships and run away even when things are going well. She dumped her college boyfriend Bean on graduation day after her mom pointed out that he had a stupid name. After searching her soul by singing Simon songs loudly, she decided mom was right.

Now she’s with Derek (Ron Livingston), and things seem to be going well in the little we see of their relationship. A quick montage shows them meeting, connecting, etc. and nothing could go wrong in what little the film shows of their relationship.

Seeing Holly Hunter gives one hope that this movie won't completely suck after all.
  Watching a gynocological exam is not good escapism for anyone.

However, Stacy’s new job as an associate producer for a bad daytime talk show leads to nothing but relationship-questioning trouble. She’s working for Kippie Kann (a mostly wasted Kathy Bates), one of those hosts who acts cheerful while digging through human dirt and pulling out heartbreaking surprises as part of rating-boosting stunts. Meanwhile, the backstage drama involves an executive producer with a sinister plot to overthrow Kippie while still getting to run her replacement’s show…because that’s a much more cynical plot contrivance than the show simply aiming for higher ratings during sweeps week.

The chance to target the showcase of dysfunctional lives that is the daytime talk show phenomenon probably passed about two weeks after they went off the air, and certainly now, when even its successor, primetime reality TV, has been a cultural mainstay for several years. “Little Black Book” doesn’t even properly skewer its oh-so-bold target, as it lacks the sly wit to tear its subject apart and instead relies on obvious gags.

Stacy appears completely inept at her job, only really proposing shows that any half-wit would know are too highbrow for Kippie Kann, then pretending she was joking. In one scene, a doorbell sound effect repeatedly plays because she’s leaning on the button—a button that’s on a side table nowhere near the sound man.

Stacy’s coworkers look like they were just transferred in from the deadest TV office sitcom ever conceived. The curly haired Ira (Kevin Sussman) is a stereotypically—but not fascinatingly—neurotic associate producer assistant who is aching for a promotion, yet horribly insecure about it. Just wait until the host can’t remember his name, ho ho. Holly Hunter plays Barb, the spiky producer who emerges as Stacy’s guide to her new rough-and-tumble job.

Once the film finally gets around to addressing Stacy’s relationship with Derek, he sees a super model on Kippie’s show and reveals that…he dated her. Why hasn’t Stacy heard anything about this, or any of Derek’s ex-girlfriends? The question can be answered, Barb realizes, through one of Ira’s overlooked show concepts: the little black book.

Derek leaves his palm device at home on accident, and pretty soon Barb prods Stacy into looking through it and using the TV show as a pretense for interviewing them. In the relationship with the super model, Derek told her that they had problems in bed, but the model says that the problems were everywhere but there. And when a boyfriend lies about the quality of sex he had with a super model, you can bet he’s lying about other things too.

Despite a great deal of convolution, the theme of the movie does eventually come across that if we’re in a good relationship, we shouldn’t need to question it. By this point, however, the film has already revealed itself as a series of false leads, bland characters and overwrought “commentary” that has little to do with romance and everything to do with dirty tricks.

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