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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Little Black Book
Little Black Book
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // January 4, 2005
List Price: $26.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 31, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Promise is squandered in this confused comedy

The Movie
When Brittany Murphy was the sidekick, like Ty in Clueless, I couldn't get enough of her. Now that she's the star of her own movies, I wish she would go away. Since she's become the new Marilyn Monroe Lite (all the goofiness, little of the sex appeal, none of the glamour), she's managed to string together a career of ill-advised movies that capitalize mainly on her abilities to roll her eyes around in her head like marbles and giggle like a mental patient (perhaps a carry-over from Girl, Interrupted.) Sure, Roger Ebert likes her a lot, but he's also become friendly with Vincent Gallo, so he's hardly one to listen to now.

Murphy plays Stacy in Little Black Book, the product of a broken home, whose mother made her into a Diane Sawyer-worshipping Carly Simon-devotee. Thanks to her mother's advice, she ruins her one good relationship with a man because she can't be certain about him. That inability to believe puts her in position to second-guess her current relationship with hockey scout Derek (Ron Livingston, Office Space). Conveniently, her new job, as an associate producer on a talk show hosted by Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates doing a pretty good Ricky Lake impersonation,) has her researching "little black books," or the modern equivalent, the Palm Handheld. Derek left his home while on a business trip, and when she looks in it, inspired by work, she finds three ex-girlfriends he's maintained contact with. Spurred on my her fellow producers Barb (Holly Hunter) and Ira (Kevin Sussman), she investigates to find out more about the exes, the supermodel, Lulu (Josie Maran), the doctor, Rachel (Rashida Jones) and the chef, Joyce (Julianne Nicholson.) What follows is your usual web-of-lies comedy, as Stacy tries to keep all the balls in the air.

If you think you know where this is going, you're in for a surprise. For a while, at least. The movie takes quite an unexpected turn, a dark one that makes it seem as though the movie is actually going to turn out to be pretty good. But as soon as the twist happens, it's undone. It's as though the director or producer or someone, got nervous about where the movie was heading, and went for the safe (and boring) route. It was the only way a movie as disappointing as this could become more disappointing. The ending is so outlandish and demeaning to intelligent film-goers, that it could have only been the end-result of a test audience's suggestions.

There's several factors that hurt the movie, aside from Hunter's grating accent and the film's dependence on Murphy's naively ditzy on-screen persona. Stacey narrates nearly the entire film in voice-over, breaking a generally accepted rule, that too much voice-over will wreck a movie's flow. If you can't see it on-screen, it's better left out of the movie. Here, it's an attempt to be overly cute. Worse yet, at least for this humble reviewer, is the continuing idea that to illustrate feminism or "girl power" a woman should act stupid or destructive (or both) and then dance. Here we get just that moment, and in the midst of this film, it becomes a "why?" moment, a symbol of how a movie can be wrecked by mainstream expectations. If the film had focused more on the subtle talk-show satire that goes on around Stacy's story, it would have been a fantastic effort.

The DVD
Columbia Tri-Star has included both widescreen and full-frame tranfers for Little Black Book, with a set of static menus using stills from the movie. Menu options include scene selections, previews, special features and language (English 5.1 and French 2.0) and subtitle (English, French) options. The disc comes packaged in a standard keepcase, with a promotional two-sided insert that has some pictures, but no real useful information.

The Quality
Presented in rather wide 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and standard full-frame aspect ratios, the movie looks good, if a bit soft, though details, like wisps of hair and puck smears on the rink glass come across clearly. There's plenty of well reproduced color in this movie, a brightly lit metro-area film that exists in a Nora Ephron-like universe of sunshine. I didn't spot any areas of serious trouble that stood out in this relatively crisp and clear transfer. The sound, presented in 5.0 (Columbia Tri-Star's budget came up .1 shy, I guess), is good, though standard comedy audio. The music expands the sound a bit, and some slight directional effects crop up (such as crowd reactions during the talk show.) Overall, a quality presentation.

The Extras
Aside from a selection of Sony comedy trailers, not including one for this film, sadly, there are just two extras included on this DVD. The first of the two featurettes, "Live & On-Air: The Making of Little Black Book," is a 10-minute, traditional, EPK-style behind-the-scenes look at the film, with on-set interview clips and plenty of footage from the movie. There's not a lot to be gleamed from this short extra. The second featurette, the 14-minute "Be My Guest: Inside Daytime Talk Shows," is much more interesting, comprised of several interviews with crew from talk shows, including "The Jerry Springer Show." Having seen the movie, the producers involved talk about how the film's plot differs from the reality of their jobs. This kind of point-of-view isn't often available, making this a better extra than one would expect.

The Bottom Line
I'm somewhat certain that, at one point, Little Black Book was a pretty good movie. Then, more than likely, Murphy became attached to it, some studio doctor did a re-write, and test audiences panned the ending. What ended up in theaters was a declawed, uneven and somewhat schizophrenic film with a truly ridiculous and unbelievable ending. The DVD doesn't really give it any support, without much in the way of extras, though the presentation is good. This is a weekend rental at best for couples looking for something that's not too sappy.


Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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