July 04, 2005

Uptown Girls on DVD

Molly Gunn and her father's guitar
The original title of Uptown Girls was Molly Gunn, which gives me an idea of what this movie was before the MGM marketing department wreaked its havoc upon it. This film is packaged and marketed as as girly-girl comedy, but underneath is a film of surprising grace and power. Revisiting it two years later, it still managed to get under my skin.
Like any Boaz Yakin picture, the cinematography is inventive and marvellous and the performances far more engaging than they have any right to be. Don't let the title or menu fool you; stirring under the farcical moments (which can border on asinine) is one of the most stirring portraits of desperation and revivification I've ever seen. Much like its characters, this film quickly grows past the stereotypes it seems to be doomed to occupy.
Molly Gunn is a creature of histrionics, but the emotional moments are quiet, and true. The trailers would have you believe that the rigid little girl, Ray, is every irritating precocious child character wrapped up into one, but this is not so. She is no more or less fragile than Molly, though they look in the opposite places to cope. It is this fact that makes they perfect for each other, yes, and the simple fact that they both are willing to care.
Ray on her way to an amusement park for the first time; the idea of it bemuses her.

One of the film's many inventive shots
Uptown Girls is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer which preserves its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is generally pleasing, with colours as I remember them and detail and sharpness usually as good as one could expect. However, grain was occasionally obtrusive, and there are print defects if you look for them. Edge enhancement was minor but present. The most shocking flaw was compression artifacts, which I thought had been eradicated from modern transfers.

The love interest takes to the stage one last time.
The Dolby Digital track never rises above the pack, but I have no real complaints for what it is. Dialog always remains clear, with motion across the front of the soundstage that rarely makes it into the rear channels. Bass is strong, particularly for the music, but never stands out. The music is mixed well, never overpowering the dialog or fading into the background. A comfortable track that never does anything good or bad to call attention to itself.

This menu is everything that makes me cringe about marketing today.
One of the most disgustingly girly menus I've ever laid eyes on, this single disc release never the less has a number of interesting special features.
"The Lowdown on Uptown" is a thirteen-minute featurette plays out like your typical fluff piece, standing out because the participants are generally a little more honest than usual. The director openly defies the marketing edict to lay out what it's really about. Brittany Murphy pats a few too many backs, but it's more charming than irritating. We learn that Dakota Fanning is what got the film greenlit, a fact which clearly bemused the director at the time. But the back and forth comments between Yakin, Fanning, and Murphy is filled with anecdotes that transcends the "What a joy it is to work with..." comments these usually have. I also love Turk on Scrubs, so any extra Donald Faison goodness is welcome. It was also nice to hear Yakin go into the look and influences at play in the film. That exploration is another way this is just a smidgen better than an EPK.
"Rockin' Style" is a featurette on the costumes. This is also pretty standard fare, but some of the costumes took more ingenuity that you expect from seeing the film; the rare craft featurette that has a bit of personality.
"Video Stills Gallery" takes what would be in the average DVD's stills gallery and sets them to motion against music. The concept seems pretty iffy on paper, but I found it far more engaging than flipping through manually with the remote. The way it's put together actually manages to create some energy with the stills.
The vast majority of the "Deleted Scenes" embrace the qualities that the marketing campaign played up. Since this film is at its worst when it tries to play up the slapstick, I was fairly relieved that these didn't make it into the film; many are really groaners.
"Music Video: Chantal Kreviazuk - 'Time'" is exactly what is says. I've been a fan of the song since I heard it in a Smallville episode a while back. Time is a powerful theme in the movie, so it seems like it would be a good fit. Efforts to integrate the video with the movie are mixed, however, sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn't work at all. Chantal's lip syncing is also less than perfect. I'm glad it was included though, as one of the movie's few tie-ins.
"Soundtrack Spot" does little more than make me hate sky blue and pink just a little bit more.
"Theatrical Trailer" is just that, presented in anamorphic widescreen.
"Other Great MGM Releases" is pretty much the same ads you find on all DVDs anymore; at least this one avoids sticking them before the menu.

Uptown Girls
is a movie that shouldn't have been good, but is. Once it abandons the early slapstick and stereotypes, the film becomes almost entirely enjoyable and at time incredibly stirring, with two leads that know how to hit the right emotional notes. The DVD, like the movie, is better than you'd expect - a good case for not judging a book by its cover. Strongly recommended.

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