When I started watching Uptown Girls I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting any deep thoughts. Molly (Brittany Murphy) is the daughter of a late rock star who, after her inheritance is embezzled, winds up becoming the nanny to Ray (Dakota Fanning) a rather difficult child with some very set ideas. At first glance, it’s a fairly fluffy opposites-forced-together comedy and it doesn’t pretend to be much more than that. But for the first half or so, it managed to annoy me quite a bit.
At first almost every definition of femininity they’re showing looks bad: Ray, the 9 year old repressed neat freak who sees value in lessons but not in fun, Molly the free-spirited rich girl who knows nothing about functioning in the real world and only starts chasing the guy after he makes it clear he’s not interested, Ingrid (Molly’s best friend) with her Stepford reminiscent baking nights and yoga classes, and Roma (Ray’s mother) the a high powered record executive who knows absolutely nothing about her daughter.
The second half however, turns most of those upside down. Ray starts to relax a little, Molly learns to shoulder some responsibility and tells Ingrid off for trying to control her life rather than be her friend, Roma comes around to asking Molly for her help when Ray goes missing. (Okay, that one was sort of a inevitable given the nanny/charge setup, but it was still nice to see her do so without the slightest show of ego and some genuine contrition for treating Molly badly.) Ingrid and Molly eventually repair their friendship on more even ground.
The notable part is that although they all change slightly, every one of them stays true to their original character- there aren’t giant sweeping transformations, but simple adjustments that allow them to get along better with different personalities, something that’s far more realistic and more likely to last.
What truly won me over though was the ending. Over the course of the movie, Molly had discovered a talent for fashion design. With her contacts in the music business, she already had several musicians asking for custom pieces and could have sailed easily into a boutique business. I was actually rolling my eyes at this point- I have some background in costume design and while it is something you can learn without much training, it’s still a rather unrealistic setup. But the film makers resisted the urge to go with the fairy tale ending. The next to last scene has Molly at an admissions interview at design school. The admissions officer points out the same things I did- that at the very least she could call one of her friends and get an entry position at a design house, which would be more fun and easier than school- but Molly has taken Ray’s favorite quote (“Fundamentals are the building blocks of fun”) genuinely to heart and refuses to take the easy path anymore. It’s not a Cinderella story where everything is handed to her, it’s a better one where she’s learned how to get everything for herself.