Clued In

Alyssa meditates on the difficulty Brittany Murphy had in moving beyond Tai:

Murphy fared a bit better, but not without undergoing a jarring real-life makeover. After strong turns in Girl, Interrupted in 1999 and 8 Mile in 2002, she lost a significant amount of weight and tried to reinvent herself by starring in a string of mediocre but semi-successful romantic comedies. She had more success in voice work, with a long-running role on the animated television show King of the Hill. But her marriage made her a tabloid staple and her erratic behavior brought her negative attention even as it lost her acting work. Murphy's last notable movie role was a supporting part in 2005's Sin City.

The girls of my generation may have grown beyond their fleeting desire for knee-highs, and overalls are nowhere to be found in my wardrobe. But in a sense, Murphy never grew beyond her performance as Tai. To watch her in Clueless is to see her at her most joyful and at her funniest. The movie was so sunny that the song that plays over the opening credits, The Muffs' cover of "Kids In America," stopped playing before the lines "You know life is cruel / Life is never kind." But these lines now seem a sadly appropriate coda to Murphy's untimely death. Onscreen or off, she never quite surpassed the role that launched her career: the endearing and genuine newcomer who rises to the top simply by being herself.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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