Why ‘Uptown Girls’ Resonates With Us 20 Years Later

It is shocking to believe that the cult classic film “Uptown Girls” celebrated its 20th anniversary last week. It feels like just yesterday I was sitting down in my living room watching the film for the very first time. Now, as many years have passed, the movie still holds great significance to many viewers, including myself.

The iconic film centers around Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy), who has never worked a day in her life and has lived carefree since her father, a famous rock ‘n’ roll star, died and left her his fortune. But Molly’s world turns upside down once she realizes that her father’s manager has stolen all her money. This results in Molly landing a job as a nanny for Ray (Dakota Fanning), a sharp-witted young girl who takes life a little too seriously.

Courtesy of MGM Studios.

There are many reasons why this coming-of-age story resonates with us 20 years later. For one, the nostalgia the movie brings of the early 2000’s. From the iconic fashion looks such as the stunning Blumarine dress that Molly wears to Ray’s cat eye Ray-Bans, you cannot help but be transported back to your childhood and teen years. Let’s not forget the pop-rock soundtrack that perfectly captured the era’s sound. Songs like “Charmed Life” by Leigh Nash and “Sheets of Egyptian Cotton” by Jesse Spencer paint the perfect scene of living in New York during that decade.

It also can’t be ignored that the cast in “Uptown Girls” is another aspect of why the film is so reminiscent of our childhood. The late Brittany Murphy, who appeared in iconic films such as “Clueless” and “Girls, Interrupted” brought such playfulness and warmth to her character that it was difficult not to instantly fall in love. She had such amazing talent as an actress, and you see that shine in her role as Molly. Like Murphy, Dakota Fanning also played Ray remarkably. Even though her character is much more serious, she has charisma and uniqueness that connect you with her portrayal of Ray. But, when the two appeared on screen together, it was truly exceptional to watch as their characters’ relationship flourished throughout the movie.

Courtesy of MGM Studios.

Even with these astonishing actors playing these characters, what’s most sincere about this film is its gut-wrenching yet charming storyline. On the surface, this movie seems like it’s just a story about an immature adult trying to navigate life. But it’s so much more than that, as the plot tackles the difficult discussion of grief, which many coming-of-age films have yet to do. For instance, with Molly’s character, you see her acting childlike to suppress her parents’ death. Whereas, Ray acts too mature to conceal her feelings about her father being ill. But both characters see through one another’s insecurities and help each other face their tragedies. A perfect example of this is the breathtaking teacup scene at an amusement park. After Ray’s father passes away, she runs away to Coney Island, the place where Molly ran to as a child when her parents passed. Both characters end up riding the teacups together in silence. This scene highlights how the two finally understand the grief and resemblance between one another. Watching that scene will always leave me teary-eyed.

As the story ends, Molly and Ray learn important life lessons. For Molly, that is facing the real world, and for Ray, that is letting loose in life. These key takeaways from the movie have taught many viewers, including me, that life is about finding that perfect balance of acting our age and not being afraid to embrace our childlike selves. Although we might not have gotten the message growing up, as we’ve gotten older, we began to appreciate the movie itself and the lesson behind the film. This lesson not only played a significant role in my life but also in many others, which has made this movie so prominent even 20 years later. 

“Uptown Girls” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

By Destiny Esparza

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