Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brittany Murphy, Ron Livingston, Holly Hunter, Kathy Bates, Rashida Jones, Sharon Lawrence, Josie Maran, Jason Antoon, Julianne Nicholson, Samantha Murphy, Rick Overton, Gavin Rossdale, Kevin Sussman, Natalie Denise Sperl, Vivian Bang
Written by: Melissa Carter, Elisa Bell, based on a story by Melissa Carter
Directed by: Nick Hurran
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content/humor and language
Running Time: 111
Date: 03/18/2013

Little Black Book (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Black' with No Sugar

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

On its surface, Little Black Book looks like an tritely pedestrian, gimmick-driven chick flick about an emotionally mixed-up career gal who gets more than she bargained for when she rifles through her boyfriend's Palm Pilot looking up old girlfriends.

So imagine my surprise at being thoroughly entertained by this weightless but canny comedy blessed with characters whose personalities aren't dependant upon plot devices, with snappy, spontaneous dialogue (even witty internal-monologue narration), with a story that flows organically, and with a very human heroine who (gasp!) isn't always likable.

Brittany Murphy plays a sweetly self-conscious aspiring TV journalist -- trapped in an associate producer job at a trashy TV talk show -- who is goaded into nagging doubts about her adoring boyfriend by tittle-tattling coworkers (especially the charismatically tart Holly Hunter) who have been warped into habitual scandal-mongers by years of wrangling prostitute grandmothers and midget Ku Klux Klansmen for a living. (Kathy Bates has a ball as the show's shameless, tyrannical host.)

When her man (Ron Livingston from Swingers) accidentally leaves his electronic organizer at home during a road trip (he's a recruiter for the New Jersey Devils), Murphy's curiosity gets the best of her. "Seconds before I opened that silver case," she says in voice-over, "I imaged unleashing all the evil into the world. I was Pandora.... But then I got over it."

Pretty soon she's dug herself into a deep moral abyss, using her job as a front for literally interviewing -- and sometimes befriending -- a nightmare parade of intimidating ex-lovers. One's a sexually insatiable fashion model, one's an over-achieving gynecologist (who Murphy thought was a podiatrist when she made an appointment pretending to have warts), one's a perfect girl-next-door who is still holding a torch for the guy -- and much to the paranoid dismay of Murphy's over-active imagination, she discovers he hasn't exactly severed ties with all of them.

Although peppered with the occasional pratfall (while walking the boyfriend's huge dog, etc.) and other small touches of more cumbersome comedy, the movie is driven by Murphy's twinkle-eyed charm, Hunter's unaffected genius with a tangy rejoinder and rookie writer Melissa Carter's amusingly acerbic twists of irony and consequence. It's not a major departure from the sugary genre norm, but Little Black Book definitely doesn't go where romantic comedy convention says it should.

The movie does have a couple hiccups in the last act, one of which makes it hard to sympathize with any of the characters when they don't extradite themselves from a very embarrassing situation. But Carter and director Nick Hurran make up for it with a refreshing finale that threatens chick flick conformity before taking an abrupt left turn.

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