Little Black Book

Little Black Book

directed by Nick Hurran

starring Brittany Murphy, Ron Livingston, Holly Hunter, Kathy Bates, Julianne Nicholson

Revolution Studios/Columbia

Everyone in a relationship will undoubtedly at some point worry about the previous relationships their partner has been involved in. Once you choose this path there is no turning back. The mind races and begins to play tricks on you. Do they still pine for someone? Do they still talk to an ex? Why did it all end the way it did? It is enough to drive you batty. This is the premise for Nick Hurran’s black comedy Little Black Book.

Brittany Murphy stars as Stacy Holt, a likable associate talk show producer who snoops into the private past of Derek, her commitment-wary boyfriend with catastrophic results. At first, her motives seem innocent, she really likes Derek, but is confounded by his unwillingness to discuss his past. It is this desire to understand the man she loves that leads her down an emotional road of suspicion and paranoia.

With encouragement from her best friend and colleague Barb (Holly Hunter), Stacy snoops into Derek’s past by accessing his Palm Pilot, computer and answering machine. Intrigued by what she discovers, Stacy’s curiosity and insecurity drive her to delve further. Using the TV show as cover, Stacy begins to meet and interact with Derek’s ex-loves. Eventually her fears intensify when it becomes apparent that not all of them are completely out of his life.

Things become even more complicated when Stacy befriends Joyce, Derek’s most recent ex. Although the two become fast friends, Stacy continues the deception. Stacy becomes alarmed when she discovers more about the nature of Joyce’s relationship with Derek.

Guilt finally catches up with Stacy causing her to seriously consider calling the whole thing off without hurting anyone. However she changes her mind after Barb encourages her to dig deeper and discover more.

As the film continues we learn how more about these characters and their lives. As relationships wind, twist and intersect with each other we discover Barb’s true motives for helping Stacy and we learn even more about Derek and the coterie of women buzzing around his life. The tension between Barb, Stacy and these women gains intensity and heightens the drama as the layers are slowly peeled away, culminating in an unexpected ending.

This is a breakout performance for the always-versatile Murphy. Her previous roles (8 Mile, Just Married) have constricted her from utilizing her range and depth as an actress. With this role, she takes hold of the film and runs with it. Besides being likable on screen, Murphy gives Stacy a very real sense of vulnerability that the audience relates with. Throughout every scene her bright-eyed exuberance lets you know that she is enjoying this role.

Ron Livingston (Office Space, The Cooler) is dead-on as Derek. One of his best strengths as an actor is that he plays the likable everyday guy extremely well. As Derek, he is likable, funny and charming. Throughout the film he gives away nothing and keeps us guessing. As Derek he gives us no inkling of deception, betrayal or dishonesty. Yet somehow he makes us wonder just who he really is.

As Barb, Oscar winner Holly Hunter assumes the mantle of antagonist in Little Black Book. Her actions taint Stacy’s rationale, causing her to turn a blind eye to common sense. She also plants the initial seeds of deception in Stacy’s mind, causing the drama to unfurl. Watching Hunter work is diabolically delightful. Her timing is methodically precise and her comedic chops are surprising. She propels the action of the film.

Julianne Nicholson arrives in Little Black Book. Although her previous work (Curtain Call, One True Thing) has been enjoyable she has never had a great deal of mainstream exposure. Her performance as Joyce will change that. She gives Joyce both tomboy coolness and a refreshingly hip intellectual femininity. She has taken what could easily have become a side character and breathed new life into the role.

Nick Hurran has done a terrific job directing Little Black Book. The actors appear so comfortable and relaxed on camera that they appear to be hardly working. He has skillfully managed to fit two particular Oscar winners (Kathy Bates and Hunter) seamlessly into a cast that consists of solid up-and-coming performers. His direction is one reason why Little Black Book rises above the normal dreck associated with the romantic comedy genre.

The film also works because its screenplay, penned by Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell, is fresh, light and fraught with enough tension and levity to keep audiences interested. Their script allowed the actors to expand their roles and develop their characters. The result is that in a relatively short amount of time we learn who these people are become attached to them.

Little Black Book is the perfect date movie. It will undoubtedly cause hours of stimulating conversation and maybe even a squabble or two between the sexes… But that’s okay because this is a fun film with twists, turns, humor and generally believable characters. Little Black Book is also the perfect escape for those wanting a break from the superheroes, aliens, and rehashed remakes that live at the multiplexes near the end of the summer film season.

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