• Jamie Dixon

Brittany Murphy Documentary Disappoints

New HBO Max Brittany Murphy Doc Fails To Hit The Bigger Picture


HBO Max's new Brittany Murphy documentary finally tries to answer the question many of us have asked since her death occurred in 2009. "What happened?" people around the world were left wondering. She was only 32, what should have been the prime of her life.


The circumstances surrounding her death were muddy, and years later many of us still don't fully understand the complicated web of events that would cause her demise. The cause of death wasn't particularly clear: pneumonia, anemia, and "multiple drug intoxication" were all given as factors.


But the 2-part documentary released by HBO Max does little to answer any of these questions. It seems like all of the clickbait articles we've already seen over the last decade, brought to life on screen. Always hyped up and promising resolution, but lacking in content. In "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?" no one is digging in to find the long-awaited answer, simply walking us back through the glamorous story of a star unraveling.


It speculates on the same things that have been speculation for years. 'True crime' podcasts have been a money-making operation for years now, the creators making a profit off engaging the viewer with a dramatic rehashing of already-known events. That is essentially all that this documentary offers, a central viewing location that condenses the last 10 years of facts, rumors, and hearsay.


It's entertainment, certainly. If the subject matter interests you, this will whet your appetite as a reminder of all the gossip that's circulated over the years. It does offer some facts, but they primarily set the scene rather than reveal much new knowledge.


The documentary fails to take a hard look at Murphy, as a person. It paints a caricature of the starlet, of what everyone was saying and thinking shortly before her passing. It reminds us of her meteoric rise and rapid descent, a clearly troubled woman struggling with an eating disorder and drug use, among other things.


Where it fails is looking at the bigger picture - Brittany Murphy was a real person, not just the gaunt figure seen on the red carpet while people whispered about her disordered eating. The documentary focuses on finding a culprit, whether it be her husband Simon Monjack (who would die in strangely similar circumstances a few months later), or her domineering mother.


The real answer is probably something much grayer. A star who, for whatever reason, was unable to get the help and support she needed to navigate. Life is complicated for all of us, and almost certainly more so when you're living under the watchful media eye.


The media eye certainly recognized that Murphy was showing signs of dysfunction. They were talking about her appearance, that she seemed underweight and unwell.


She had been fired from the movie The Caller only a few weeks before her death. Murphy was barely able to hang onto her previous job in Something Wicked, with production sources telling journalists at The Wrap that Murphy was, "barely there…she'd go in and out of consciousness in the middle of takes."


Rumors flew that her marriage was toxic, that her husband might be taking advantage of her. These are all addressed in the documentary, but it makes the focus more about Monjack than the actual subject. Again, it's engaging the viewer in a lurid tale without addressing the real issues at play. How do women end up in this position, abused by men claiming to act out of love but seemingly failing to have their best interests at heart?


Even Perez Hilton, a celebrity blogger, famously conjectured shortly before her death that Murphy could be dead soon. It turned out to be eerily prescient, and still apparently did little to urge anyone to take the stars' troubles seriously.


If Brittany Murphy had the privilege of being seen as a real person, a person worth saving, it's arguable that any of these moments would have been a cause for intervention. But instead, she was tabloid fodder. The more erratic her behavior became, the more the media could gain by reporting on it. We have to acknowledge that they didn't want her to die, but they certainly didn't need her to get well.


It's unfortunate that the documentary retelling her untimely death makes the same mistake, letting the circumstances of her passing be reduced to more tabloid fodder. Once again, we learn that there's profit to be gained by others' dysfunction. But perhaps that's a lesson we can stop having to revisit at the expense of women abused by a system they're often powerless to win against.



Jamie Dixon is a contributing writer here at The Pyrrhic. She's a content writer by profession, but this is more fun. She's also working on her first novel in her spare time.


Find her on Twitter @onegirloneblog



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