Walk on the Wilde side
Review: A Good Woman
|Scarlett Johansson can make even the silliest hat look good.|
They say every writer puts part of him or herself into every character they create. Judging from A Good Woman, Oscar Wilde put the same part of himself into every character in "Lady Windermere's Fan."
I don't know the play well enough to tell whether the problem lies there or in Howard Himelstein's adaptation, but all the major characters and some of the minor ones speak in Wildean witticisms:
"I find the best way to keep my word is never to give it."
"We're all in the gutter but some of us are looking for the stars."
"Crying is the refuge of plain women. Pretty women go shopping."
"Every man is born truthful and every man dies a liar."
"I have thought seriously about marriage. That's why I'm still single."
"Gossip's OK. It's the moralizing that's in poor taste."
"You needn't put yourself down. Your friends will take care of that."
"You have no redeeming vices."
"You know why they call it an altar? It's where they make human sacrifices."
"I've begun too many romances out of sentiment. They all ended in settlement."
Most of the lines are chuckle-worthy but when everyone speaks in the author's voice it's like they're reading "Poor Oscar's Almanac."
The context is a romantic comedy that's generally entertaining but is hampered by a pivotal scene halfway through that's intended to clarify matters but confuses them instead.
Helen Hunt stars as Mrs. Erlynne, who leaves New York when she runs out of money and married men to have affairs with. She goes to spend the summer of 1930 in Amalfi, on the Italian coast, where the rich and famous gather. (She's "infamous and poor," she tells us.)
She hits on Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers) and soon the audience and all the wealthy gossips in town believe they're having an affair. The only one who isn't aware of it is Robert's young (she turns 21 during the summer) wife of one year, Meg (Scarlett Johansson). She has a suitor of her own, Lord John Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), a playboy who becomes her friend but never stops trying for more.
Mrs. Erlynne also attracts a man, Lord Augustus (Tom Wilkinson), a.k.a. Tuppy, who is rich, available, smitten and understanding about her past.
Then comes the crucial scene where the plot does a 180 and we're supposed to go along, revising our opinion of everything we've seen and absorbing a major new piece of information. This is easier said than done but should be accomplished in time to appreciate the later events that give the film its title.
The whole piece is a trifle that would seem hard to screw up and aside from the one major slip director Mike Barker (Best Laid Plans) handles it well, moving along at about twice the pace of the Masterpiece Theatre fare it resembles.
Hunt hardly seems a natural choice for her role but she plays it adequately, if never seeming quite at ease with the mannered speech of the period. Wilkinson and Johansson could play their roles in their sleep but to their credit they don't. The younger men, both quite good, will be largely unfamiliar to American audiences.
A good man is hard to find but movies like A Good Woman are a dime a dozen.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.