Seems like it was only a matter of time before a documentary on Brittany Murphy was released. After all, the star of beloved films like “Clueless” and “Uptown Girls” was only 32 when she died in 2009 from severe pneumonia, anemia and “multiple drug poisoning. “. And Murphy’s erratic and disturbing behavior in the years leading up to his death inspired countless tabloid stories and TikTok theories. Still, while HBO Max’s two-part documentary, “What Happened, Brittany Murphy?” tries to portray his subject in a new light, he never really succeeds. Instead, he treats Murphy as little more than another true crime obsession, playing on the morbidity of his death and glamorizing the most disturbing elements of his history.
Her death in December 2009 came as a shock to many fans, few realizing the extent of the star’s personal struggles.
Like many other It Girls of the 1990s and early 2000s (Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz), Murphy was the kind of bubbly beautiful young lady whose charisma and talent, combined with a high profile relationship ( with Ashton Kutcher) and a booming career, have garnered endless attention. So when rumors started circulating about drug use and erratic behavior on set, audiences were obsessed. And when Murphy started appearing on red carpets looking emaciated, and then was fired from the 2011 horror film “The Caller” after just a few days, the gossip sites rushed. Still, his death in December 2009 came as a shock to many fans, few realizing the extent of his personal struggles.
The fact that she was married to Simon Monjack, a screenwriter accused of being a crook who allegedly controlled almost every aspect of Murphy’s life, raised a lot of eyebrows – especially after Monjack died, too, five months ago. later and similar unusual causes. Murphy had clearly been in serious trouble, but who was to blame? Was it Monjack? His seemingly bossy mother? The media?
As with many recent documentaries that have attempted to revisit – and perhaps fix – the way Hollywood has treated its starlets, there are rarely easy answers. But this film, in particular, fails because it spends the majority of its two hours focusing on the idea of Murphy, rather than the real person. Directed by Cynthia Hill (“A Chef’s Life,” “Private Violence”), the documentary does not bother to explore who its subject was, with few interviews or details to provide insight into Murphy’s life. before Monjack. The revelations we receive, like his muscular childish nature and unwavering desire for fame, are barely enough to whet our appetites.
Even one of the doc’s most powerful moments – learning that an agent told a young Murphy she was “cuddly, but not capable” – is over before we can figure out what the effects must have been. of those words about a woman who would continue to suffer from years of disordered eating.
It’s not that Murphy’s end of life isn’t worth analyzing – especially in the larger context of how celebrities get, or don’t get, access to help and to support. And the mystery surrounding Monjack’s potential role in his wife’s disappearance is compelling, as are the interviews with figures like his parents and his ex-wife (whom he reportedly ditched after learning she was pregnant). Together, these anecdotes paint a heartbreaking picture of all the people who have clung to a vulnerable and sick Murphy. But devoting the majority of the documentary to her husband is unnecessary and unfair for an actor who has had a life and personality that deserves their own detailed investigation.
The choices the film makes to emphasize the morbidity of Murphy’s death don’t help. “What Happened” opens with the 911 call made by Murphy’s mother, Sharon, after discovering her daughter’s lifeless body, and the song played on the title sequence every hour is literally called ” Die Young “. A handful of supposedly outrageous but truly sad details pop up here and there, such as Sharon’s questionable relationship with Monjack (the two slept in the same bed together after Murphy’s death, according to the documentary) and the dozens of drugs. prescription that Murphy was taking before his death. And then there’s the interview with Perez Hilton, whose cruel and steadfast coverage of Murphy during his later years, including a prediction of his untimely death, sparked a tabloid storm. But even this moment seems surprisingly superficial given the weight of the tragedy.
What Hilton and the film both seem to miss the most is genuine compassion – for Murphy, for the victims of abuse, for all the young female victims of men who value money. and in power above all. For viewers, it’s clear that Monjack is meant to be the villain here. But what about the way we’re supposed to view Murphy herself? People who are only loosely related to her lament her transformation from a effervescent young woman into a glassy-eyed robot. But overall, Murphy’s life doesn’t seem relevant to “What Happened.” This is a documentary that primarily cares about shocking its viewers and letting them chatter, much like the media coverage that may have contributed to its fate. In the end, it feels like Murphy has once again been used as click bait by those looking to tap into the very subject they claim to be trying to help.