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12th Sep 2023

Remembering Uptown Girls 20 years after its release

Sheets of Egyptian Cotton is still a certified banger.

When Uptown Girls hit cinemas in 2003, it received a tepid response from reviewers.

One critic dismissed it as “fluff”, and elsewhere, the two main characters were labelled as “obnoxious”, while the writing was panned.

In the schoolyard, however, it received quite a different reception. As girls, we were enchanted by Molly’s (Brittany Murphy) glamour and her joie de vivre, but we also saw ourselves in her stubborn young charge, Rae (Dakota Fanning).

There were murmurings amongst us girls that this was also the saddest film ever made (it’s not), and rumours that one mother wouldn’t let her daughter watch it because it was just too sad (probably not true). We were bewtiched.

Twenty years later, I understand some of the criticism levelled at the film. Scenes I once considered works of art – the slapping scene, the moment in the teacups – are perhaps a bit heavy-handed. But still, there’s a magic quality to Uptown Girls, and it deserves to take its place in the movie hall of fame, alongside other 2000s greats.

On reflection, there’s a lot to love about Uptown Girls. It had nepo baby discourse, a beautiful pastel aesthetic and some great in-universe pop songs. I mean, Sheets of Egyptian Cotton is a certified banger. Indeed, from the moment Molly bursts onto our scenes in a flurry of bohemian chic outfits, we’re mesmerised.

Beyond the film’s melodrama and its glamorous sheen, there’s a lot of heart to Uptown Girls, and that’s down to the chemistry between Molly and Rae. Despite their differences, Molly and Rae are ultimately just two lonely girls  try to keep their heads up amid the loss that surrounds them.

The 2003 was a standout moment for both of its leading ladies. Fanning was just nine when the film came out, while Uptown Girls was a career defining moment for Murphy. While she received acclaim for her supporting roles in Clueless and Girl, Interrupted, Uptown Girls saw Murphy take centre stage, and she dazzles. Her portrayal of an IT girl balances whimsical charm and vulnerability in equal measure, effortlessly endearing herself to her audience. Molly’s role in the film is to help Rae come to terms with loss, and following the death of Murphy at the age of 32 in 2009, this facet becomes particularly poignant.

While Uptown Girls may not have thrilled critics when it was released, it resonated with girls, and as the years go on, it remains a very special film, and deserves to be remembered among the great feel good films of the early 2000s.

Image credit: Getty Images