Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!
10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless
A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.
9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys
Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.
8. Izzy in The Prophecy II
Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.
7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted
In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.
6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls
The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.
5. Veronica in Phoenix
A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.
4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway
When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.
3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City
As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.
2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun
Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.
1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word
Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!