"The British make me sick. They make two kinds of films.
- A bunch of repressed people gather around and try to emote with the desperation of somebody trying to pass a kidney stone.
- A bunch of smarmy people gather around and use humor to disguise the fact that they have no actual feelings, and even if they did they'd be unable to express them in a way any of us could readily identify as 'human.' This type of film is generally called a 'comedy of manners.'"
Well, that's what Mr. Cranky proclaims to the world before embarking on an exceedingly cranky review of Oliver Parker's 'The Importance of Being Earnest'.
Most of the audience when we saw it this weekend, one of the new batch of releases in France, could clearly scarcely have agreed less. It's possible, I suppose, that Mr. Cranky has (a) seen few recent British movies and (b) not yet encountered Oscar Wilde.
My only and in the end, minor, problem with this glossy, impeccably cast film was how much of it was Oscar Wilde, but Parker's honest enough to admit that his screenplay was "based on" the original play: sometimes too loosely so for comfort, sometimes amusingly successful (Cecily's visions of a knight in shining armour, the matter of muffins...). Anybody who tries to bring this stage gem to the screen after Anthony Asquith did in 1952 has a hard act to follow and Parker does a nice job in a generally well-paced production, once it settles down after an overheated start.
There was nothing serious to fault with the performances, including Reese Witherspoon's (as Cecily), a world away from her last outing in Paris in ... Sweet Home Alabama (no comment). Colin Firth (Jack), Anna Massey (Miss Prism) and Frances O'Connor (Gwendolyn) are first-rate, Rupert Everett (Algy) swiftly improves when he stops being Rupert Everett and Judi Dench dominates the lot and, of course, gets most of Wilde's best lines, as Lady Bracknell.
Overall: 6.0/10. That's one point down what I would have given the movie were it shorn of one or two snatches of extra dialogue, had fewer cuts in the text, and avoided a disastrous faux pas in a fortunately brief flashback to Bracknell's past, which was most certainly not Oscar Wilde, any more than a quite unnecessary twist in the closing lines.
The satire doesn't quite bite, but Wilde's wit survives the worst of Parker's meddling, something the latter can't avoid, whether it was with the "extras" he added to An Ideal Husband or a rather more successful treatment, to my eyes, of Othello.
Purists, steer clear; but I'd recommend this to anyone out for a likeable, if flawed, "comedy of manners". After all Wilde himself called this a "trivial comedy for serious people".
10:21:41 PM link