Toni Collette as Arden
Brittany Murphy as Krista Kutcher
Rose Byrne as Leah
Marcia Gay Harden as Melora
Mary Beth Hurt as Ruth
Kerry Washington as Rosetta
James Franco as Derek
Giovanni Ribisi as Rudy
Josh Brolin as Tarlow
Piper Laurie as Arden's mother
Nick Searcy as Carl
Mary Steenburgen as Beverley, Leah's mother
Bruce Davison as Leah's Father
The Dead Girl is a quintet of stories about seemingly unrelated people whose lives converge around the murder of a young woman (portrayed by Brittany Murphy). The characters in the film are linked not only by their connection to her murder, but also by the difficult hand that life has dealt them. The film scrutinizes their inner struggles to overcome or surrender to their misfortunes.
The first story, titled The Stranger, focuses on Arden (Toni Collette), a quiet and diffident woman who lives with and cares for her verbally abusive, invalid mother (Piper Laurie). Arden is the character who finds the titular body and alerts the authorities, much to her mother's dismay. She later encounters Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi), a grocery clerk obsessed with serial killers, and agrees to meet him for a date. While Arden prepares for the date in secrecy, her mother calls for her assistance. Upon her arrival to her mother's room, Arden is berated with questions as to her appearance. Arden reacts angrily and attacks her mother before packing her suitcase and leaving home. She then meets Rudy and has masochistic sex with him.
The second story, The Sister, revolves around Leah (Rose Byrne), a depressed forensics student who prepares the titular body for an autopsy. She is obsessed with the idea that the body belongs to her sister who went missing a number of years ago. She resents the fact that her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Bruce Davison) are still searching for her lost sister and won't accept that she is not coming back. When Leah convinces herself that the dead girl was her sister, she feels great relief and begins a relationship with her colleague, Derek (James Franco). Their blossoming romance is cut short, however, when she finds out that the dead girl is in fact not her sister. Leah is overwhelmed with sorrow and regret, but finds some solace in Derek, whom she asks for help.
The third story, The Wife, centres on Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt) who is unhappily married to Carl (Nick Searcy). She resents his frequent, largely unexplained absences, during which she has to stay at home and run his storage business, and then cook and clean for him thanklessly when he does return home. On one such occasion when Carl is away, Ruth discovers a chest of drawers in one of his storage units, filled with ripped and torn articles of women's clothing, some stained with blood. She suspects her husband of murder, and one night takes the clothes to a police station. When she pulls up outside the station, however, she has a change of heart and returns home and burns the evidence.
The fourth story, The Mother, involves Melora (Marcia Gay Harden) a naïve, middle-American woman who was the mother of the dead girl, Krista (Brittany Murphy). She is called by police to answer questions on when she last saw her daughter, and then she herself goes to see where her daughter lived before her death. She meets Rosetta (Kerry Washington), a prostitute who was Krista's room-mate and lover. Rosetta allows Melora to see Krista's apartment, and tells her stories about Krista's life; how she was a sex worker, a drug addict and how she had a daughter of her own. She also reveals that Melora's late husband had sexually abused Krista, of which Melora had no knowledge. Melora goes and finds her granddaughter, takes her from her caretaker (Carla Jimenez) and decides to take her home and raise her. She offers Rosetta to come and live with her as well, but she refuses. Melora asks Rosetta to write her at least.
The fifth and final story is called The Dead Girl and takes place a few days before Krista, the titular character, is murdered. Although she has had a hard life, Krista has a positive outlook and a sweet nature. She buys a big stuffed toy and asks her john, Tarlow (Josh Brolin), to drive her to Norwalk where her daughter lives, as her daughter's birthday is the next day. Tarlow refuses at the last minute, however, so she has to borrow her landlord's motorbike. Before she sets off, however, she attacks Tom (Dennis Keiffer), a man who had recently just beaten her girlfriend, Rosetta. She rings Rosetta and tells her that she'll pick up her daughter and all three of them will move away and start a better life together. She asks Rosetta to tell her she loves her, but Rosetta simply tells her she has to go back to bed. Krista continues her journey to Norwalk but the motorbike breaks down and she has to hitchhike the rest of the way. She hitches a lift with Carl, who promises to take her to Norwalk. She is elated that she will make it there in time for her daughter's birthday. The story ends with Krista smiling in the passenger seat of Carl's car, wearing a pink vest previously seen in the storage space found by Ruth (Carl's wife). She notes the time, 12:13 a.m., which was seen written on her arm when Arden (The Stranger) found her body and while Leah (the Sister) was examining her body in the morgue.
1.^ "Independent Spirit Awards".