What you get out of What Happened, Brittany Murphy? depends entirely on how big a fan you are of the actress. The biggest fans—the ones who know her movies by heart, the ones who still pay her tribute annually, the ones who have long questioned the circumstances of her death—won’t learn a huge amount. But for folks who fell in love with Murphy in Clueless, cheered her on in 8 Mile, and then wrote off her death as just another Hollywood tragedy, What Happened is an emotional, often confounding, rollercoaster.
Crucially, at the end of this two-part documentary, viewers will be no clearer about why Brittany Murphy died. Of course, we’ve known since her 2009 passing that the cause of death was a combination of pneumonia, anemia and “multiple drug intoxication.” The reasons for her not receiving—or seeking out—medical assistance in the days before her death, however, remain incredibly murky. What is clear from various testimonies is that she almost certainly could have been saved had she made it to a hospital in time. What Happened also manages to vividly paint a picture of the perfect storm that Murphy found herself in at the time of her death. Her physical and mental health were suffering, as was her career—the result of an overbearing husband and lack of real emotional support.
What Happened subjects Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack to intense scrutiny—and rightfully so. He is shown to be a pathological liar, a controlling partner, and a man who responded to his wife’s death in a variety of deeply inappropriate ways. Among other things, in the months after Murphy’s death, he posed for portraits with Murphy’s mother Sharon in a manner that made them look like a couple. He walked a reporter from People magazine through Murphy’s scene of death in her cluttered bathroom, down to the exact position she was found in. He set up a website asking for financial contributions, then quickly took it down when people started asking questions. Various bombshell revelations about his past and the depth of his deceptions drop throughout the documentary.