Hello! Every week, our internet culture staff will discuss the world of streaming entertainment in this newsletter. In this week’s edition:
- What happened with HBO’s new Brittany Murphy doc?
- It’s time for Dune
- The parallels of Netflix’s You and Maid
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What happened to What Happened, Brittany Murphy?
What Happened, Brittany Murphy? asks a question of its long-gone subject—much like another (better) documentary. But just moments into the new two-part HBO Max series, that curiosity evaporates. Filmmaker Cynthia Hill abruptly begins the documentary with audio from Murphy’s mother’s anguished 911 call, and things don’t get much better from there.
We’re on something of a course correction as documentaries have started addressing early aughts Hollywood and the way it treated women. But the Murphy doc feels way less thoughtful: Do we really need a recreation of Murphy collapsed on her bathroom floor?
Hill chronicles Murphy’s ascent from regional theater to bit TV role to her star turn at age 17 in Clueless, showing her obvious talent and joy for acting. But she focuses much more on Murphy’s death, giving talking-head time to tabloid reporters and columnists. There’s a brief interview with a young woman who claims she’s the best friend of Murphy’s father, Angelo Bertolotti (who died in 2019), but there are no further details about how that relationship came to be. There’s a lot of weird secondhand info here.
King of the Hill co-star Kathy Najimy is featured and seems the most genuine and introspective about what happened to her friend, but Perez Hilton is also in there, trying to launder his rep. He cites just one of the awful things he said about famous women (in this case, predicting that Murphy would die soon) and now simply labels it “gross.” He also seems to confine celeb media being “gross” to just 2009. There’s no accountability for his years of disgusting posts about Murphy, even after her death.
Hill spends a considerable amount of time on Murphy’s marriage to screenwriter Simon Monjack, who died five months after Murphy of similar causes. She tries to spin him into some mysterious con-man figure, when the reality is much simpler: He was an abuser and a manipulator. Monjack’s family and ex-wife offer more evidence on that front, but by then, the film has already lost sight of its actual subject.
Elsewhere, clips from Girl, Interrupted and Don’t Say a Word are zapped of context and employed for maximum cringe as if lines from her movies hold the answers. Adding to the cringe, Hill cuts together clips from multiple unnamed YouTubers who have never met Murphy, but freely speculate on what happened to her. Many of them are putting on makeup while making wild claims about her life, which is a whole genre on YouTube.
By the end, I didn’t feel like I knew more about Murphy as a person and artist. There was just an overwhelming sadness that she’s now viewed as a true-crime curiosity.
—Audra Schroeder, senior writer
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Dune is a dense and dazzling visual spectacle
Dune, by design, feels incomplete. Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel—which has inspired everything from Alien and Star Wars to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series in the 56 years since it was published—Dune doesn’t attempt to cram hundreds of pages of dense world-building onto the screen.
There have been many attempts to take on Dune over the years, some of which were abandoned or became critical disasters. But in the hands of Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), Dune is a dense, visual spectacle that never feels so overwhelming that it’s completely unapproachable.
What is Dune about?
Dune involves an influential religious order known as the Bene Gesserit which has spent centuries enacting a concise breeding program, the ability to compel someone to do something with only your voice (a pretty blatant influence on Star Wars’ Jedi mind trick), and a prophecy proclaiming the eventual emergence of a messiah. And that’s just scratching the surface. The main story follows Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his family, House Atreides, on the verge of major change.
Dune debuts Oct. 22 on HBO Max and in theaters.
Read the full review here.
—Michelle Jaworski, staff writer
You and Maid present different abusive relationship narratives
The third season of Netflix’s You, like the two seasons before it, includes several murders and attempted murders. And while the series continues to satirize true-crime tropes, season 3 also offers a nuanced take on codependent and abusive relationships.
Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) and Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) are now married with a baby. They’ve moved to a fictional suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area, which Joe calls “soulless.” Instead of being happy, Joe is already focused on finding “the one”—since he only stayed with (er, didn’t kill) Love because she was pregnant. The 10-episode season is a careful tango between two people who carry a lot of trauma and don’t know how to have a normal relationship.
A couples therapist temporarily fixes their relationship issues before both return to their old ways. Joe plans to leave Love and take their baby, Henry, while Love is determined to do anything to save their marriage. The writing on this show is so good that you’ll find relatable traits in both characters—even though they are murderers.
Maid, another Netflix original series, explores abusive relationships through a different lens. Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir of the same name, it stars Margaret Qualley as Alex, a young mom who decides to take her daughter and leave an emotionally abusive relationship.
Maid is, at times, extremely bleak: It shows the many ways the system in this country fails a person trying to leave an abusive relationship and how poverty makes it difficult for a person to take care of themselves and other family members. But you also want to root for Alex and the other women on the show in similar situations. Maid excels at depicting the struggles of people leaving abusive relationships while not passing judgement on characters who go back to their abuser. It’s a raw, compelling series.
—Tiffany Kelly, culture editor
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