Near the end of the 20th Century, filmmakers suddenly seemed to “discover” Oscar Wilde.
In 1997 alone, the writer was the subject of stage plays (Moises Kaufman’s Gross Indecency,
David Hare’s The Judas Kiss), a biopic (WILDE) and a published biography (The Wilde Album,
by his grandson Merlin Holland). Many of his plays have been turned into feature films, often with
mixed results. (1999’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND was enjoyable; 2002’s THE IMPORTANCE OF
BEING EARNEST missed the mark despite the presence of Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell.)
Now comes A GOOD WOMAN, a new adaptation of Wilde’s first play, LADY WINDERMERE’S
FAN that transposes the story from the late 19th-century London drawing rooms to 1930s Amalfi
with less than stellar results.
Howard Himelstein’s screenplay cobbles together some of the best witticisms penned by
Wilde, but by “opening up” the action, he dilutes the original play’s deliberately claustrophobic
setting. It also doesn’t help that director Mike Barker has miscast the two female leads. I’m a
huge admirer of actress Scarlett Johansson and I once wrote that I was pretty certain there wasn’t
anything she couldn’t do. Well, I have to admit I was wrong. In A GOOD WOMAN, she seems at
sea as the happily married newlywed who comes to be suspicious of her husband’s dealings
with a much older woman. Johansson looks gorgeous in the period costumes but she can’t quite
get a grasp on the character of Meg Windermere (here an American from Rhode Island).
Newcomer Mark Umbers as her husband is attractive but he is also hamstrung by the concept
of the film. (It perhaps doesn’t help that he is a Brit portraying a Yank.)
The biggest miscalculation, though, is the casting of Helen Hunt as Stella Erlynne, an
adulterous adventuress that in another era might have been played by Carole Lombard. Hunt
just cannot pull off the role. When she was much younger, I was an admirer of her work from
her stint as David Morse's lover on "ST. ELSEWHERE" to her supporting work in cheesy movies
like GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN. The actress found a perfect role on the TV sitcom
"MAD ABOUT YOU" and then -- after somehow winning an Oscar for AS GOOD AS IT GETS,
Hunt turned into a terrible movie actor. A GOOD WOMAN marks her first big screen part since
a disastrous performance in Woody Allen's THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. Honestly,
I hadn't even noticed she was missing.
Stephen Campbell Moore struggles gamely as the philandering Lord Darlington. Truthfully,
the only actor to emerge from the proceedings is Tom Wilkinson. Having previously portrayed
the author's nemesis in WILDE and Dr. Chasuble in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,
the actor steals virtually every scene in which he appears. Pity, that what he accomplishes
merely results in petty larceny.
Rating: C -
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, sensuality and language
Running time: 93 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review Two
|A Good Woman
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.