— by CAM SMITH —
As an actress Brittany Murphy was a bubbly live-wire of a personality; an adorable bundle of charisma and giggly exuberance, whose wide, anime-like eyes projected fragile innocence mixed with a tangible air of mischievous eroticism. Regardless of the project she was featured in, she often felt slightly larger than life — like an extremely charming and lovable cartoon character — overshadowing the potential limitations of her tiny frame by pulling forth the naturally vivacious presence barely contained within it.
When the startling news of her premature death from cardiac arrest hit the Internet like a shockwave Sunday afternoon, it was hard not to feel a certain amount of frustration that she was never really presented with a plum project in which to unleash her largely untapped potential.
Typically cast in romantic comedies — in many ways an ideal venue for her energetic, engaging gifts — she was only afforded a small number of opportunities to really shine vibrantly on-screen.
While a meaty supporting role in the 1995 hit “Clueless” was largely responsible for allowing Murphy entry into the world of movies, it was her wounded performance in the 2001 Michael Douglas thriller “Don’t Say a Word” which truly allowed audiences a glimpse at her instinctive powerhouse abilities.
Playing a mentally-ravaged victim of past abuse who holds the pieces to a baffling puzzle inside her shattered psyche, Murphy took what could have been a silly, over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side character and gave her a gentle, frightened soul. It was daring and admirably controlled work which, in the service of a better film, would have likely earned deserved awards recognition.
She cannily followed that movie with the Eminem quasi-bio-pic “8 Mile,” playing a devilishly-attractive potential romantic interest with ambiguous motives and loyalties. The role, a relatively complex one, allowed her to mate her established dramatic skills with her affinity for playing alluring, slightly tom-boyish objects of attraction — a winning persona which would be heavily utilized in successful rom-coms like “Uptown Girls” and “Just Married,” the graphic novel-adaptation “Sin City” and in her vocal work as Luanne on the Fox animated hit “King of the Hill.”
It’s unfortunate that the curious circumstances surrounding her death — and the ensuring TMZ/Perez Hilton-fuelled media circus — will likely overshadow what made her such a special and underrated performer. Whether her end was brought on by drug use or her oft-referenced alleged heart condition is completely irrelevant at this point. Another young talent has sadly left us before their time and it’s important that we remember Brittany Murphy for the brightly-burning characters she brought to life, not the unnecessary details of her personal life.
Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.