Dead Girl
The person who robbed my house looks just like Brittany Murphy … weird.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/29/2006
Director: Karen Moncrieff
Cast: Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Brittany Murphy, Kerry Washington, Mary Beth Hurt, Mary Steenburgen, Rose Byrne, Giovanni Ribisi, James Franco, Nick Searcy

The plot device where one event ripples outward, affecting the lives of many different people, has been done before.

It can be effective (“Open Hearts (Elsker Dig For Evigt)”) or less so (“Babel“). With “The Dead Girl”, director Karen Moncrieff is leaning more towards the excellent Danish drama.

In the film, a girl’s death affects the people in her six degrees-like circle. The film is broken up into chapters and each segment examines the participants and their connection to the victim.

Assembling an impressive cast, the performances are excellent all around, with Marcia Gay Harden, Kerry Washington and Brittany Murphy putting in some of their best work.

That’s unsurprising for Harden but in my opinion this is the breakout dramatic role for Murphy and another example of Washington’s versatility.

When looking at some of Murphy’s other work, it seems to mostly be fluff. Sure, she was fun in “Clueless” and “Freeway”. But “Sin City”? How over-the-top was that?

In “The Dead Girl”, she takes on this dark character with a ferocity and vulnerability that even surprised me. I’m going to expect more from her in the future and this will either help or hurt her, depending on her choices.

Kerry Washington on the other hand has done little but impress me throughout her career. From playing a bisexual mother-to-be in “She Hate Me” to the wife of Ray Charles in “Ray” to one of the wives of Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland“, she has continued to play different people with an amazing chameleon-like ability.

Half the time, I don’t realize it’s her until I check out the credits. In “The Dead Girl”, as the roommate of Brittany Murphy, she is powerful and compelling. Especially in her scenes with Marcia Gay Harden, Washington can be heartbreaking and fierce all at the same time.

When you boil down the chapters, what happens is that you see the film isn’t so much about a murdered girl. It’s an examination of different women and their ability to cope with pain and loss.

This seems to be Moncrieff’s primary interest as a filmmaker, especially in reference to her excellent 2002 film, “Blue Car”.

As an honorary lesbian, I find her films fascinating and she has a wonderful ability to frame ordinary shots in a beautiful way … making the most of the light and environment available to her.

I’m not sure if this film is for everyone. Aside from the dark subject matter, it is a character study piece. It isn’t plot driven and that can drive some people a little nutty.

Still, I’m not one of those people and I’m going to pronounce a 4 out of 5 for “The Dead Girl”. The performances are very strong and the tone of the film didn’t stray much from its visceral nature. If you want something light, try the goofy romantic comedy at the googleplex, this ain’t it.