Urban Cinefile
"Let me tell you: it's easy to pretend to be in love with Cameron Diaz"  -Ewan McGregor on A Life Less Ordinary
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday February 1, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



The lives of several strangers intersect: when Arden (Toni Collette) finds a dead girl near a river, she begins to attract attention - for the first time in her life. But the incident triggers a conflict with her aged, ailing mother (Piper Laurie). At the morgue, forensics student Leah (Rose Byrne) comes to believe that the dead girl is her sister, missing for 15 years; her parents (Mary Steenburgen, Bruce Davidson) refuse to believe it. Meanwhile at the trailer park, Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt) discovers evidence against her husband Carl (Nick Searcy), incriminating him as a serial killer. When police identify the dead girl as Krista (Brittany Murphy), her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) drives from Washington to Los Angeles to identify the body. She meets Kirsta's former room-mate, a prostitute (Kerry Washington) who reveals dark, damaging secrets about Krista's home life.

Review by Louise Keller:
The Dead Girl is bit like a jigsaw puzzle, whose jagged pieces comprise damaged people trying to make sense of their lives. Lonely women are the centre of each of the five dense chapters that are connected in some way to the body of the murdered girl discovered at the beginning of the film. The characters in each story are separate, and their pertinence defined by the relationship they bear either to the dead girl or someone connected to her. The intense emotional link, however, is undeniable. Intriguing and unpredictable, this multi-layered film delivers a profound ripple effect as it explores the complexities of anger, grief, denial and retribution.

For Toni Collette's abused daughter Arden, the discovery of the naked body is a catalyst for escape from her tyrannical, cruel mother. 'It doesn't hurt when you kiss me,' she tells Giovanni Ribisi's supermarket assistant, of the cuts on her hand which mirror the emotional pain in which she lives. Rose Byrne's forensics student Leah aches for closure following the disappearance of her sister, and desperately wants the body she is examining to be that of her sibling. When Mary Beth Hurt's wife Ruth makes a chilling discovery about her husband, she knows the decision she has to make cannot satisfy both her conscience and her loyalty. By far the most moving chapter is that simply called 'The Mother', when Marcia Gay Harden's Melora discovers the truth about her dead daughter's life. We feel her pain as she hears from her daughter's prostitute flatmate, the reasons for her choices and most devastatingly what her daughter had thought of her. In the final chapter, there is closure, as we meet the girl herself, Krista (Brittany Murphy), in her final hours.

Strong performances bring writer director Karen Moncrieff's poignant characters to life, leaving us vulnerable and moved by their commonalities and differences. It is impossible not to respond to the helplessness, yet be warmed by the unexpected moments of hope.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Karen Moncrief's riveting drama unfolds without a flaw as she tracks the lives that intersect following the discovery of a dead girl on the empty fields by a quiet river, somewhere out of some town in America's heartland. The setting itself plays a key role in the film's tautly maintained atmosphere, in which four women who come into contact with the corpse of a fifth are each affected in profound ways.

The screenplay is nuanced, calm and observing, and each of the characters we meet is fully formed, even though not all the details of their conflicted lives are blurted out. We find the elements that matter in this economical labyrinth that speaks directly to our innermost consciousness. The structure is likewise thoughtful, unsensational yet irresistibly engaging as Moncrief opens each story and each character.

The dead girl somehow helps each of the women escape from physical and/or psychological restraints. Arden (Toni Collett) escapes from her bed ridden yet oppressive and hateful mother; Leah (Rose Byrne) escapes from the tyranny of grieving that has suffocated her family for 15 years; Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt) finds relief from her loveless, lifeless marriage; Krista's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) finds that the truth does indeed set her free - if with considerable pain. And poor Krista (Brittany Murphy) finds in death the escape from her shrivelled life amongst loveless men, and a mother she thought had betrayed her.

It's a heartbreaking film, superbly written, directed and performed. The darkness is bearable only because it rings so true to humanity and embraces the positives of the human condition within its framework. A serious film for serious lovers of film.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2006)

CAST: Josh Brolin, Rose Byrne, Toni Collette, Bruce Davison, James Franco, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Beth Hurt, Piper Laurie, Brittany Murphy, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Searcy, Mary Steenburgen, Kerry Washington

PRODUCER: Eric Karten, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Kevin Turen

DIRECTOR: Karen Moncrieff

SCRIPT: Karen Moncrieff


EDITOR: Toby Yates

MUSIC: Adam Gorgoni


RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020