Here’s what you need to know to understand how truly shitty Lifetime’s The Brittany Murphy Story is: it opens with sad tweets from celebrities responding to her death, its storyline is reminiscent of both the nerd narrative of Lifetime’s Saved by the Bell movie and a ’90s teen makeover movie, and Ashton Kutcher is the only person who comes out looking good. Yes, in a story about Brittany Murphy’s life and death, Kutcher is the only redeeming character. Great job, Lifetime.
Even outside of the movie’s actual content, The Brittany Murphy Story has been doomed from the start; Murphy’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, has plenty to say about the existence of the film and it’s also led to an interview where he suggests that her mother, Sharon Murphy (a pivotal character in the movie), killed their daughter. The casting is horrendous, and the entire movie was shot in 16 days — which definitely shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the script was also written during that same period.
The Brittany Murphy Story does not fall into the so-bad-it’s-good camp, because it is not even remotely entertaining. It’s not ironically good, and it’s not worth the energy to hate-watch. It’s less of a biopic that celebrates Murphy and more of a cheesy mystery thriller, complete with a dramatic distracting score, dramatic camera filters, and dramatic shots of Murphy taking pills (“Antidepressants?!” her mother cries in pure horror, as though she’d walked in on Murphy shooting heroin into her eyeballs). The less said about the acting, the better. Amanda Fuller doesn’t play Brittany Murphy so much as Tai from Clueless, and acts just by bobbing her head nonsensically.
Even structurally, the movie is a fucking mess. It doesn’t know what it wants to focus on — Murphy’s relationship with her mother, her rise to and fall from (?) fame, her outcast status on the set of Clueless, her creepy new husband, the danger of paparazzi, the drug rumors, her mother’s breast cancer, etc. — and tries to pack so much into a two-hour TV movie that it jumps between all of these, unable to provide a full story for any of them. Instead, we get half-stories (and half-truths, or maybe even no-truths) that come and go too quickly to provide any sort of conclusion or catharsis. It’s a terribly made film by director Joe Menendez, who has mostly worked in children’s television and is at a complete loss as to how to handle this script. An early, peppy montage in the film is no longer than 20 seconds long and consists of only three scenes, two of which are virtually identical. What was the point?
There’s a distinct lack of subtlety throughout The Brittany Murphy Story. To show that Murphy is not a typical Hollywood starlet, there is a scene of her making eyes at a cute PA on the set of Clueless who then immediately talks shit about her (“chunky monkey”) and goes to flirt with Alicia Silverstone instead. When Murphy is upset about her appearance (she is not “heroin chic” enough to play Janis Joplin), she actually covers her mirror with a blanket and then dyes her hair blonde (she immediately becomes the center of attention after this, as if she just took off her glasses and let down her ponytail in a teen movie). A montage of her rising to fame and falling in love with Ashton Kutcher is set to Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” (you know it’s Kutcher because the actor wears a trucker hat that says “This Is My Trucker Hat”). Murphy discovers her mother’s cancer is back because there is a pamphlet actually labeled “Beating Breast Cancer” left out on the kitchen counter.
The love story in the movie is not between Murphy and Kutcher but between Murphy and Simon Monjack, Murphy’s real-life husband, who died six months after she did. Monjack is a paparazzo who wants to save Murphy from all the other evil paparazzi by warning her that they will soon turn on her. This results in them getting married, even despite the multiple warnings Murphy receives about him. Nothing in this movie makes much sense.
There is a trashy appeal to Lifetime Original Movies and a natural curiosity attached to any celebrity biopic, especially one about a beloved actress who died young, unexpectedly and tragically. But The Brittany Murphy Story doesn’t earn this appeal and doesn’t deserve this curiosity. It’s not a touching portrait or a fitting tribute. It’s a deplorable cash grab that exploits Murphy’s memory and has no interest in telling the truth. Brittany Murphy was a real person who deserves better, and it’s disgusting that Lifetime doesn’t care.