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It is that time of the year where all the Golden Globes and Oscar hype hit the airwaves, DVD screeners are sent to voters, and Buffalo gets just the top few contenders. With all the critical acclaim of some films, it is a real shame we don’t get to see them all on the big screen (still can’t fathom how Little Children has not come to theatres here, maybe the Golden Globe nom will get the ball rolling). Karen Moncrieff’s sophomore effort The Dead Girl falls into the category of a great trailer for a movie that may not have gotten the press to catapult it onto top ten lists. It had been on my list of films to see and I finally got the opportunity to check it out. There is an all-star cast and an intertwining narrative, which draws comparisons to a film like Crash, yet presents itself in a different way. The characters are all connected by the titular dead girl, yet never meet each other. We are shown each story separately without the contrived overlap last year’s Oscar winner had. While some vignettes work better than others, the overall film does succeed as a whole. Moncrieff has put some great performances on screen to display the powerful emotions needed to tell this story.

The Dead Girl begins with the discovery of the slain woman in a field. This girl will be the backbone to our tale as her presence in that field commences a chain of events that will be felt by many people. Our first chapter tells the story about the stranger who found the body. She is a mousy woman who is trapped in a life she hates by her overbearing mother, played with razor-sharp viciousness by Piper Laurie, who has made a career out of these kinds of roles. This primary section shows what could be a parallel to the final night of the dead girl’s life, and while effectively acted, doesn’t really add that much to the final story. The same could be said about the third chapter called “The Wife.” While we are introduced to a character that plays an integral role in the final chapter of the film, the overall story is a bit lacking. What the wife does for her husband shows either the power of love or the strength of self-preservation, and that ambiguity takes a little something away from the effectiveness of the action.

Where the movie really shines is with the glimpses into the lives of “The Sister,” “The Mother,” and “The Dead Girl.” These three chapters are heartbreakingly real and emotionally resonant. Rose Byrne carries the film, in the second part, with her performance as a med student who believes the body of a girl she is prepping for autopsy is her missing sister. The mental anguish caused by her sister’s disappearance fifteen years prior has eaten away at her. She never has an opportunity to live her life because her parents and those around her spend all their energy trying to find their missing daughter, instead of trying to show the one they still have the same compassion. When she believes that the search could finally be over, there is a release from depression and a sense that she can finally rebuild her shattered life. Byrne’s performance is rivaled only by chapter four’s Marcia Gay Harden, as the victim’s mother, who is trying to piece together why her daughter left in the first place. Acting opposite Kerry Washington, against her usual type here as a beaten prostitute, Harden shows the love of a mother and the sorrow of finding out that she might have been able to prevent everything had she just looked closer years ago.

After catching small glimpses into the lives of those affected by the death of a hard luck girl, we receive the payoff by seeing the last moments of her life in the final chapter. Played almost too realistically by Brittany Murphy, she looks like she might have starved herself and gotten high each morning before filming, we are given a face to the body. She is a girl with so much life inside her and a motherly joy for the birthday of her daughter. There is a love for her best friend and a favorite “John” of hers that can bring out a rage powerful enough to stand up for them at her own safety’s risk, yet her juvenile glee when things go right show how broken her character really is. She was raised on the streets and never matured into the woman she should have. Her childlike innocence just augments how cruel and random this world we live in is and how much pain one horrible act can inflict on complete strangers.

The Dead Girl 8/10

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photography:
[1] Toni Collette as Arden and Giovanni Ribisi as Rudy in First Look Pictures’ The Dead Girl – 2006. Photo by Ron Batzdorff.
[2] Marcia Gay Harden as Melora with Kerry Washington as Rosetta in The Dead Girl – 2006. Photo by Ron Batzdorff.

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