There’s not much good to say about The Ramen Girl, except the Japanese cast does pretty well. They don’t get actual story arcs, and they’re only around to service the vanity of narcissist protagonist Brittany Murphy. But their acting is good, even though director Ackerman is terrible with their scenes too.
Murphy is a trust fund Barbie who runs off to Japan pursuing bro Gabriel Mann, who throws her aside after one night together. While Mann seems quite the villain, once the film gets into Murphy’s behaviors more, it plays just as likely she’s a stalker. Becca Topol’s script is godawful to be sure, but the film’s literally about Murphy not learning anything and being rewarded for it. So any time there’s a moment of character development or revelation, it’s simultaneously obviously accidental and also mildly interesting what it unintentionally explains about Murphy’s character (and the film’s mentalities).
After Mann runs out on her—leaving her with nothing but a sad pair of ex-pats (Daniel Evans and Tammy Blanchard)—Murphy finds her way to the neighborhood ramen shop and starts insinuating herself into the lives of the owners. Nishida Toshiyuki is the depressed, drunken chef, and Yo Kimiko is his tolerant wife. Murphy decides Nishida will teach her to be a ramen cook, which is a big deal for Nishida. He’s sad because his son didn’t want to be a ramen chef, making him feel less of a man than pseudo-competitor Ishibashi Renji. It doesn’t matter. It’s all background to Murphy being cloying and clingy. And bad. Her performance is atrocious. Again, Ackerman’s directing is awful throughout, but when it comes to directing Murphy, Ackerman manages to get worse and worse at it as the film progresses.
Maybe because her character arc is all being mad at Nishida for expecting her to understand Japanese. And if not Japanese, to understand the secret ramen chef camaraderie he’s convinced is a thing. More, he’s convinced Murphy is his heir apparent even if she doesn’t ever understand what he’s trying to tell her about it. At one point, she magically understands someone else’s Japanese. The magical realism aspects are Girl at its most inventive, so it’s too bad Ackerman entirely bungles them.
Technically, it’d be too nice to call it a mess. Ackerman’s composition is lousy, and he doesn’t seem to understand how DV works, which is fine since cinematographer Sakamoto Yoshitaka doesn’t know how to light it. Bad music from Carlo Siliotto and bad cutting from Rick Shaine lump things out.
It’s possible a better editor would’ve helped—better music definitely would’ve helped—but there’s only so much anyone could’ve done. Murphy’s performance and Ackerman’s direction are incompetent.
Though Blanchard’s also risible. Every time she shows up, it reminds Ramen Girl could be worse, actually. She could be in it more.
The only engaging aspect—besides the Japanese actors, who just get screwed over, so they’re a wasted investment—is trying to figure out if Murphy’s a narcissist, sociopath, or just a solipsist (doesn’t believe anyone exists outside her own mind).
Ackerman can’t even shoot the food. It’s ostensibly a cookery picture, and Ackerman can’t even shoot the food. Ramen Girl is less filling than a Cup o’ Noodles