What Fresh Hell
“Hell is empty,” a quotation from The Tempest warns us as Little Black Book opens: “All the devils are here.”
It’s men, you see. Men are devils. Lying, cheating, manipulative devils, which is why women need to empower themselves with estrogen-fueled girly goodness and do whatever they need to do in order to protect their innocent, delicate selves from those masculine monsters.
Except I don’t see any male devils in Little Black Book. I do see a lot of lying, cheating, manipulative women. I do see Holly Hunter as the female personification of Satan, a shrieking harpy of demonic evil who seduces Brittany Murphy into adding corruption and moral depravity to her list of attributes that had been limited to the minor malfeasances of witlessness and inanity. It’s possible it’s intended to be satire, this women-are-devils thing, though it’s hard to tell when the height of droll intellectualism here is dog farts. If it’s satire, then it can get lumped in with the likes of The Stepford Wives, showing women up as cold, idiotic bitches while pretending to celebrate their strength and integrity.
Now, on a good day, I hope there’s a special room in hell reserved, with a few exceptions, for people who make “romantic comedies.” But even subbasement-level expectations did not prepare me for the distasteful, obnoxious, voyeuristic cesspool of human pettiness and cruelty that Little Black Book is. This horrible movie made me sick to my stomach, and I can’t recall the last time a movie so repelled me. The Sweetest Thing, maybe… but at least that disgusting movie aspired to nothing more than being the most repulsive movie it could be. Little Black Book, on the other hand, thinks it’s a Deep and Meaningful exploration of the contemporary battle of the sexes. With dog farts.
*bangs head on desk*
It starts with Brittany Murphy. This is, heaven forfend, a “Brittany Murphy showcase,” and the awful inevitability of such a thing lessens the pain not one whit. It’s terrifying enough that Murphy (Uptown Girls, Just Married) — with her bouncing and her giggling and her absurdly wide-eyed vacant stare and her pouty mouth dangling open constantly in what is meant, I suspect, to be representative of fresh sexiness — is anyone’s idea of a grown-up, adult woman. But here we’re asked to bear witness to her attempting to command a big stage of public speeches in which she declaims on the state of modern relationships and the small stage of agonized self-examination. Everything she has to say in these moments, either to others or herself, is along these lines: “In my search for truth, I had become the lie. Perhaps some secrets should remain secret.” ACK! This script was written by Melissa Carter, who used it to get an MFA (who knew there were advanced degrees in Hollywood hackdom?) and Elisa Bell, who wrote the appalling Sleepover and was brought in to punch up the MFA version. Whichever one of them wrote that line about truth and secrets, there’s only one honest reaction: God help movie lovers.
Oh, and Murphy sings in this movie. She sings Carly Simon songs, many, many Carly Simon songs, and don’t even get me started on how the movie wishes it was even worthy to lick the boots of Simon’s heartfelt, genuine, passionate music. The press notes are suspiciously mum on whether Murphy did her own singing, which leads me to suspect that she did not, but still: We’re meant to think she’s singing. Ugh.
Anyway, the finding-the-truth stuff is all about how Murphy’s Stacy decides to investigate the romantic past of her boyfriend, Derek (Ron Livingston: Adaptation). She doesn’t decide to do this on her own, of course, because she’s really, really stupid. Like, she can be in a paper gown on the examining table in an OB/GYN’s office, practically with a cold speculum already in play, before she realizes that this doctor is not the podiatrist she was anticipating. (And let’s not even get into how romantic comedies should not generally feature pelvic exams.) Stacy is so stupid that she’s been to university to study journalism and has idolized Diane Sawyer all her life but has no idea whatsoever what “sweeps” are. She’s so stupid that she works as a TV producer at The Kippie Kann Show, an ambush talk show that features such topics as “Is your man a cheating bastard?” and “Grandma’s a hooker, so handle it,” and her totally sincere topic suggestion is “Literacy in inner-city schools.”
No, Stacy is dumb, and she must be prodded into her evil by Satan herself, who’s called Barb and looks like Holly Hunter (Thirteen, Levity). Barb goads Stacy into going through Derek’s Palm Pilot, his electronic little black book, so they both, these twisted degenerates, can call up his old girlfriends, pretend to interview them for the talk show, and prove that Derek is a dirty rotten cheating scoundrel. There’s absolutely no evidence for such a supposition, and Derek seems like a pretty decent guy — although, really, how great can he be if he goes for fatuous Barbie dolls like Stacy? But Barb says things like “Omissions are betrayals” — meaning that Derek should have told Stacy absolutely everything about absolutely everyone he ever crossed paths with. Unless Stacy is looking for a 35-year-old virgin, it’s hard to know what she expects from a cool, cute guy like Derek: he should’ve saved himself for her? It’s made perfectly clear that Stacy has plowed right through veritable armies of boyfriends before Derek, so what the hell is her problem?
And then it just gets worse, descends into a nightmare of a third act that you simply can’t believe they’re trying to get away with: this is when the film becomes the cesspool of vindictiveness and bitchiness masquerading as honesty and openness. This is when Murphy gets all those big speeches and moments of dramatic crying and running mascara and the like. “Every plan I had for my life has gone so unbelievably wrong,” she whines, like the little spoiled baby she is, and then goes on and on about happy endings, and the movie doesn’t even have the decency to end there.
The Kippie Kann Show opens each episode with a scream. You’ll want to end Little Black Book with one.