Kudos are in order for Little Black Book scripters Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell, who have taken the adventures of a young career girl examining her most significant relationship and blended it with a scathing look at reality television to produce a film that is both psychologically revealing and richly comic.

Stacy (Brittany Murphy) is the lady in question, and she dreams of one day following in Diane Sawyer's footsteps. To this end, she lands a job as an associate producer on a Jerry Springer-type show hosted by the formidable Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates). Befriended by veteran producer Barbara (Holly Hunter) and beloved by her ice-hockey agent boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston), Stacy seems to have all her ducks lined up in order. It is an illusion. Gradually, she learns to beware ducks whose postures are too perfect.

Stacy's life begins to unravel when Derek has to leave town on business and departs without his trusty palm pilot--containing all manner of vital statistics and revealing information about three ex-girlfriends who may or may not be out of his life. At Barbara's urging and unable to control her curiosity, Stacy goes out of her way to meet the competition, and quickly finds them to be beautiful super-achievers. What is worse, their hold on Derek seems to be ongoing. Despondent, Stacy becomes less and less sure of her man, and it is at this vulnerable low point that Barbara betrays her in spectacular fashion.

It would be worse than indiscreet to reveal the several surprise endings that provide an exemplary resolution to Stacy's dilemma. Suffice it to say that there is a genuinely subtle side to Stacy's march to epiphany, and more than enough laughs to punctuate her ambitious journey to personal fulfillment. Pay attention to the opening sequence, because it sets up a delightful payoff at curtain.

Murphy's seismic energy and big-eyed beauty helps to carry Little Black Book through some slow patches in the second act. Still, there are more than enough twists and turns to hold our attention. Her friendship with one of her rivals is one of the honest, natural touches in a script far more complex than the usual exploitation of women in their 20s.

Little Black Book's supporting cast is outstanding. Livingston's Derek is nicely underplayed, while Bates reminds us why there is so much to pity as well as hate in reality-TV show hosts. Finally, Hunter's Barbara can always find a spurious rationale to justify betraying friends and colleagues while shoveling her way through the depths of show biz.

-Bruce Feld