UK, Oliver Stone (2002)
At the risk of sounding like a complete cultural buffoon, I have to admit that I didn’t really like this movie, and since it was acted by some of Britain’s finest contemporary actors, lead by Dame Judi Dench, I guess I’d have to say I don’t much like Oscar Wilde.
I have very little experience with Wilde and I’m a tad bit embarrassed to say that for someone who enjoys British literature, film and TV as much as I do, before tonight, I’d never seen or read the famous play. All I knew was that it involved a confusion regarding a name, multiple cases of mistaken identity, and something to do with a handbag. And now that I’ve “done” Ernest, I can cross it off my list and move on.
The film is beautifully shot on location, the costumes are gorgeous and the people all look very pretty on screen. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are very good in their lead roles as the two love-struck guys who each pose as Ernest to win the women they love. Reese Witherspoon performed very well for a girl from Tennessee with little (any?) theatre experience, playing against some British heavy hitters. She managed to keep her accent throughout (often an obvious stumbling block for Brits and Americans playing each other,) and she added her usual spunk to her role as the sweet and innocent ward Cecily, the most uninteresting character in the bunch.
Judi Dench, the real reason watched this film, is the real reason to watch this film. She’s fantastic in the role of Lady Bracknell, the high society matron who stands in the way of everyone’s happiness. Dench dominates every scene she’s in and rightly so. Between her line delivery and the fantastically elaborate costumes, complete with towering hair and feathery hats, she sweeps in and carries the film.
Unfortunately I didn’t really care for the story, and while I found many of the lines witty (living up to the reputation of a Wilde script,) I also found the plot a bit irritating and the characters, especially the women, prissy and tedious to watch. While I thought for the most part that the director did a good job of opening up the play and making the story more cinematic, I hated the use of music; a sort of snazzy jazzy score that was sometimes silly, often incongruous, and far too omnipresent. (“Aren’t we just having so much fun!”)
In short, it’s obvious that everyone involved with The Importance of Being Earnest is have a great time making the film. I just wish I’d had more fun watching it. [**]