Movie review: 'Little Black Book'

EntertainmentMoviesJulianne NicholsonKevin SussmanHolly HunterGenresNeil Diamond

3 stars (out of 4)

"Omissions are betrayals."

Or so says Holly Hunter in "Little Black Book," an eccentric, boldly black romantic comedy starring Brittany Murphy as a woman prying into her boyfriend's past relationships.

Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, but one who's furiously curious can be just as destructive, according to screenwriters Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell.

When Stacy Holt (Murphy) gets hired as a junior producer on the "Kippie Kann Do" show--a daytime clone of the Jenny Jones ilk with episodes titled "Grandma Was a Grandpa Last Week" and "Grandma is a Hooker, So Deal With It"--she gets sucked into the genre's brawl-inducing, amoral morass. Hunter plays Murphy's co-worker and mentor figure in a kind of alternate reality version of her character in "Broadcast News."

Ron Livingston, freshly upgraded to hunk status since his stint on "Sex in the City," plays boyfriend Derek, whose "omissions" about past girlfriends lead Stacy on a quest to smooth out the barbed little details of his romantic history.

"If you want to keep your man, find out why they didn't," say co-worker Ira Nachlis, played by Kevin Sussman.

The premise isn't new, but the execution is. "Little Black Book" occasionally wavers in search of tone (and indeed, it could be a bit darker). Director Nick Hurran, however, rises to the task of making us empathize with Stacy--even when her duplicitous behavior crosses over into villainy as she drives a wedge between Derek and ex-turned-friend Joyce Adams (Julianne Nicholson).

"Little Black Book" isn't perfect and suffers from a distracting case of hero worship--notably of folk singer Carly Simon. Hurran shoehorns in Simon's iconic songs and a brief cameo in an unnatural and cloying manner, a la Michael Bolton's bit part in "Snow Dogs" and Neil Diamond's in "Saving Silverman." Simon is a fine songwriter who deserves more.

Neither the artists nor the filmmakers benefit from such heavy-handed casting, as it carries the stink and awkwardness of a producer (or studio suit) grafting an unnecessary subplot onto an already completed screenplay.

Yet it's a testament to Carter and Bell's script--and Murphy's magnetism--that "Little Black Book" shines despite this black eye and a couple of false endings. Murphy, in her most layered performance yet, makes Stacy both human and cartoonish, as the romantic comedy genre demands. Nicholson, previous making her mark this year in indie feature "Seeing Other People," brings gravity to an otherwise secondary character, adding to the potency of the film's wonderfully strange, buy-it-or-don't ending.

Though trailers for "Little Black Book" try to sell it as a zany romantic comedy, don't judge this book by its cover. Those who stick with it will be surprised and maybe even laugh in between a tear or two.

"Little Black Book"

Directed by Nick Hurran; screenplay by Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell; photographed by Theo van de Sande; production design by Bob Ziembicki; music by Christophe Beck; edited by John Richards; produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Deborah Schindler, William Sherak and Jason Shuman. A Sony Pictures Entertainment and Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual content/humor and language).

Stacy Holt - Brittany Murphy
Kippie Kann - Kathy Bates
Barb - Holly Hunter
Derek - Ron Livingston
Ira - Kevin Sussman
Joyce Adams - Julianne Nicholson

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentMoviesJulianne NicholsonKevin SussmanHolly HunterGenresNeil Diamond
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