It was a shock to hear about the sudden, sad passing of Brittany Murphy today, at only 32 years of age. It always is when one of the young ones goes, I guess, no matter how much or little one connected with their work.
As I’d noted several times previously in writing about both Murphy and her films — most recently in the new-to-DVD Deadline, not one of her better vehicles — she undeniably possessed a certain crazy-girl appeal, that sense that you were in the company of someone who could show you immense highs, but also perhaps leave you broken. On a certain level guys like women like that, even if only from afar, because they remind us of the unattainable girls from high school who moved with a deadly, unearned confidence, and seemed to exist on some other social stratum.
How quote-unquote damaged was Murphy, by life, illicit substances or some combination thereof? I’m not sure. There were rumors here and there, and obviously the coming days will provide a clearer picture of her medical history, for those interested in diving into the details. Without getting into specifics, though, it was clear from fairly early on that Murphy was someone who felt deeply, offscreen as much as on. If there are screen personalities who essentially play only slight variations of themselves (and that wasn’t Murphy), there are also actors and actresses whose greatest gift is a direct line to the telepathic — their own private connection to a deep reservoir of swirling, intense emotion, which they are then free to tap into and pour into whatever roles they tackle. They paint in bold, insistent, impulsive strokes, not the mannered accoutrements of accents or other learned pieces of the craft of acting.
That was Murphy, to me. With her large, expressive eyes, she could do manic and fearful with ease (e.g., Don’t Say a Word), but she was a pip with comedy (e.g., Clueless) and also had a gift at slipping into melancholic quiet (e.g., 8 Mile) in a manner that silently telegraphed a character’s unspoken hopes, fears and regrets. I will say this definitively, too: it’s a shame that Murphy’s starring role in a Janis Joplin biopic never went off. That, I believe, would have been a very solid vehicle for her talents, so adept was she — heartbreakingly, it turns out — at channeling doomed and troubled women.