Last filmed in 1952, Oscar Wilde’s play was deserving of an update. Pity no one managed to see it. Horrifyingly, I have been stymied as to how to review it for months. Literally! It’s a frothy delight, true to the spirit of the original, but flavored with the permissiveness of the present. Perhaps the filmmakers took too many liberties with the behavior of the time, but I suspect they just wanted to keep their MTV audience interested. I mean, it’s rated PG for “mild sexuality.”
Apparently screenwriter/director Oliver Parker (An Ideal Husband, another film adaptation of Oscar Wilde, as well as the Laurence Fishburne Othello) doesn’t think the classics are good enough – but at least he is true to their spirit. He loves Rupert Everett as a straight man and so do all the ladies out in the audience, so go Ollie go! I have not read any interviews with Mr. Parker, but it is clear that he really loves the works that he brings to the screens, though he tries to push the boundaries of the script towards the modern sometimes. In this case, it was the bizarre comedy of errors coupled with a casual sense of sexuality, something Lady Bracknell would never indulge in her wicked nephews.
If you don’t know the general premise, our two bored and aristocratic friends find amusement in pretending to be a different person in Town than in the country, and in the guise of their respective alter-ego “Earnest,” have seriously engaged the affections of two young ladies. The problem is, the ladies love them for being named Earnest, and some cross-acquaintanceship (and the fact that they both pretend to be Earnest) creates some seriously high-end farce. In the end, of course, being earnest is more important than being Earnest, but both together make for some wickedly scintillating comedy.
And excuse me? Could it be better cast? NO! So if you have never seen the play live, you must endeavor to see this cast. Rupert Everett is Hollywood’s shining example of why we don’t actually care if our leading man actors are gay, as long as they are as dashing and charming as Rupert. He’s got the Wilde fever for certain, and he’s a delicious foil to Colin Firth, a geek’s hunk, comfortably haughty and uptight (as we love him in his dual Darcy roles) as the other “Earnest.” Basically. if you love the play, you will love this movie. I’m not going to give you any more teaser information if you have not. All farce is a greater joy when it is a surprise.
Anachronistic as it is to say so, Judi Dench ROCKS as the redoubtable Lady Bracknell – with her natural gravity and fearsomely twinkly eyes, it’s no wonder most community theatres have to resort to a man in drag for this role. Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park, A.I.) and Reese Witherspoon make up the rest of the main ensemble, though all the supporting characters are equally lovely. Reese is the lone Yank in the sea of stiff upper lippers, holding her own like a native. They’ve all been playing these sorts of roles since they were in leading strings, and she eases into it like, well like Gwyneth Paltrow. A supreme compliment, by the way. One wishes this cast could go and remake other works, like Dangerous Liaisons (in the period, not Cruel Intentions) so they could continue to play together. Oliver Parker Repertory Theatre! Oh yes!
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 5/22/02
Time in minutes 100
Director Oliver Parker