The Dead Girl Movie Review

With her debut feature Blue Car, Karen Moncrieff zeroed in on a troubled adolescent girl and a relationship with her favorite teacher; the film had the focus of a short story (a mixed blessing for a feature film). In The Dead Girl, her scope widens but that sharpness remains. The girl of the title is found in a field, and Moncrieff spends time with four women affected by her death: Arden (Toni Collette), who finds the body; the morgue attendant/student (Rose Byrne) who receives it next; Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt), the wife of a man who may know more about the death than he lets on; and a mother (Marcia Gay Harden) in town to identify a body.

Following these sideline characters, the screenplay circles the girl herself, a prostitute played by Brittany Murphy in a final, haunting segment. This structure eschews typical ensemble payoffs -- only a few of the characters intersect and they sure as hell don't learn valuable lessons from each other -- for its own subtle rewards. These narrative threads, never running over 20 minutes, are as close to short fiction as Blue Car, but the new film also has the unity of a fine, slim story collection.

In one of the shortest and most affecting segments, we catch a glimpse into the life of the morgue attendant (Byrne) whose sister is missing and presumed alive -- at least by her parents, specifically her eternally hopeful mother (Mary Steenburgen) -- for many years. When the dead girl turns up, Byrne finds herself tantalized by the idea that it might be her sister -- and that this sad chapter in her life may be forced to end. A mealtime confrontation between Byrne and Steenburgen will break your heart from two different directions.

The film is full of strong, brief performances by actors who, like Byrne, you may not have thought much about in who knows how many other movies. (Toni Collete and Giovanni Ribisi are exceptions in their segment together, not because they aren't effective, but because they're both as they always are: Collette excellent and Ribisi playing a hillbilly man-child.) Even the usually mannered Marcia Gay Harden reins it in as a sheltered, shell-shocked mother, breathing new life into what used to be a cartoonish specialty for her.

Despite working small wonders with her large cast, Moncrieff remains a better writer than director: A surprising percentage of The Dead Girl is shot in close-up, with a droning score piped in with unnecessary frequency. The resulting claustrophobia may be fitting, but the tight quarters also make the movie feel oppressive, at odds with its own observant reflection, even more so than the fact that the non-dead leads are so united in meekness.

But while a little breathing room would've been appreciated, it's hard to quibble with how well Moncrieff the director preserves the stark sadness of Moncrieff the writer -- that is, so carefully that the faces of The Dead Girl, and their ways of reacting to utter awfulness, are preserved in your memory for days afterward.

She's not dead yet.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , Eric Karten, , Kevin Turen, Henry Winterstern


Ivan Kiryushin's picture

Ivan Kiryushin


3 years 6 months ago
View Comments

The Dead Girl Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2007


More Brittany Murphy

Fans And Critics Alike Pan Brittany Murphy Lifetime Biopic

Even before it premiered on Saturday night we had some major reservations over Lifetime’s Brittany Murphy biopic. First there was the casting, (Amanda Fuller didn't...

Brittany Murphy's Dad Angelo Bertolotti Slams Lifetime's "Trashy" Biopic Of Late Daughter

Since Brittany Murphy became the latest celebrity to land a biopic that will air on Lifetime, 'The Brittany Murphy Story,' her father has not kept...

Brittany Murphy's Dad Slams Lifetime Biopic

It hasn't even aired yet, but already Lifetime's biopic of Brittany Murphy, entitled The Brittany Murphy Story, has been slammed by her father, Angelo Bertolotti.Murphy...

Lifetime Set To Air Brittany Murphy Biopic This September, Amanda Fuller Will Star

Brittany Murphy becomes the latest celebrity to land a biopic that will air on Lifetime. The good and bad times of the late actress's life...


Brittany Murphy's 'Something Wicked' To Be Released, Other Posthumous Movie Releases

Brittany Murphy’s final movie ‘Something Wicked’ is due to be released over four years since her tragic and ambiguous death. The plot focuses on a...

Brittany Murphy's Last Ever Film 'Something Wicked' Released Four Years After Death

Brittany Murphy tragically died more than four years ago, but her final movie 'Something Wicked' has finally got a release date.The upcoming film is set...

Brittany Murphy Final Movie 'Something Wicked' To Be Released Four Years After Death [Video]

Brittany Murphy's last ever movie finally has a release date four years after the actress' death. The long-delayed Something Wicked is reportedly set to premiere...

Brittany Murphy's Death Was No Accident, Her Father Claims

Brittany Murphy, the popular Hollywood actress know best for her roles in 8 Mile and Clueless, was believed to have passed away from natural causes...