The posthumous celebrity documentary treatment seems to be a sort of rite of passage these days; movies too early like I am Heath Ledger, Amy, Robin Williams: Come on my mind, and Whitney all shed emotional light on their subjects with the help of many family members, colleagues and journalists. What happened, Brittany Murphy?, now streaming on HBO Max, appears to do the same for the late actress.
Opening shot: We catch a glimpse of the LA skyline at dusk as the text flashes on the screen: “Hollywood. December 20, 2009. ”
The essential: When Brittany Murphy passed away at just 32 in 2009, the world went into shock. “There was no one like Brittany,” costars, friends and colleagues tell us, trying to emphasize how special she was. During What happened, Brittany Murphy?In the first hour of, the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, her shady husband and faded star are all examined with the help of tabloid reporters and people in the industry. Murphy always had that spark, even as a kid in New Jersey, stealing the limelight at theatrical performances and telling everyone about her big dreams on Broadway and Hollywood. His career took off quickly, starting with commercials and TV shows and finally taking to the big screen with Distraught. Director Amy Heckerling remembers that special something Murphy had, how much younger she was than everyone on set and brought a kind of childish kindness to everything. And then came the pressures from Hollywood.
What happened, Brittany Murphy? quickly goes from the late star’s death and humble beginnings to the impact Hollywood has had on Murphy, chronicling her dramatic weight loss and decision to go blonde in hopes the casting directors can consider her as more “fuckable”. The doc doesn’t spend too much time here, however, as he soon finds himself caught up in the odd character of Murphy’s screenwriter husband, Simon Monjack, who is, to put it bluntly, weird. As the first hour of this two-part documentary draws to a close, we hear from YouTubers speculating that there was serious criminal act involved in Murphy’s death, and a lot of fingers seem to point to Monjack.
What shows will this remind you of? What happened, Brittany Murphy? may remind you a bit of other celebrity documentaries like Coaching Britney Spears, Amy (although Amy is a much better movie), and I am Heath Ledger.
Our opinion : What happened, Brittany Murphy? is really confusing. The first thing to say is that they failed to get a lot of people from Murphy’s past to sit down for the doc (I’m frankly shocked they have Amy Heckerling), and from there things just don’t work out. that getting weirder. What happened, Brittany Murphy? uses home videos, movie clips, and extremely hokey reenactments to try and paint a picture of the star, but none of it really touches home. The only highlights of the doc come when you get lost in those old Murphy’s clips, because she was just so magnetic. As soon as we get back to the actual content of What happened, Brittany Murphy?, however, you are immediately ripped from that dream and plunged into a dark and exploitative nightmare, a nightmare that engages in real beauty blogger conspiracy theories and opens with a horrific 911 call. And this call is a particularly upsetting note to start the series off, especially given the rest of the doc’s bizarre tone. (I couldn’t help but feel like we were listening to one of the most traumatic moments in someone’s life – and those are only the first two minutes).
My biggest problem with What happened, Brittany Murphy? it’s not necessarily that he fits these real crime theories, or that he uses movie clips to help emphasize emotional beats in such a trivial way that I had to look away. No, it’s because we have the impression Click bait: the movie! above all, easily tossing aside her late star and the life she lived – a life undeniably worth considering – in favor of the most salacious headline opportunities. Her late husband Simon Monjack doesn’t do for the villain the documentary thinks he does, and What happened, Brittany Murphy?The choice to spend more time digging it than shedding light on its titular star is an ill-advised choice to say the least. It really is a disappointment. Murphy deserved so much better from all of us when she was here, and she certainly deserves better than this inconsistent, exploitative excuse for a documentary now that she’s gone.
Gender and skin: There are a few suggestive snippets from Murphy’s films, but not much else.
Starting shot: Simon Monjack’s mother and brother sit down for an interview with Simon and Brittany.
Most pilot line: So many interviews in What happened, Brittany Murphy? are full of cliché observations and cheesy lines, often so similar that I wondered if they were reading the same script. They don’t even warrant registration.
Our call: TO JUMP. What happened, Brittany Murphy? is an inconsistent, half-baked excuse for a documentary that chooses to disrespect and exploit its belated subject matter rather than pay any tribute to its memory.
Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines, hogging the mic in karaoke, and tweeting thirst. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.
Flux What happened, Brittany Murphy? on HBO Max