Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed & Written by: Stephen Fry, based on the novel Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.
Produced by: Gina Carter & Miranda Davis.
Director of Photography: Henry Braham.
Edited by: Alex Mackie.
Music by: Anne Dudley.
Released by: THINKFilm.
Country of Origin: UK. 105 min. Rated: R.
With: Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow, Stockard Channing, Richard E. Grant, John Mills & Peter O'Toole.

In this adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, British actor, writer and first-time director Stephen Fry gives us a survey of decadent English society in the 1930s, a period of mild insanity just before World War II. Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore), a struggling writer, aspires to marry socialite Nina (Emily Mortimer), but can't seem to summon up the necessary funds, despite winning a bundle on a horse (he can never seem to collect on it) and writing a novel (confiscated for lewdness by British customs officials). In the meantime, he writes a newspaper gossip column, frequenting the many parties and galas of British society. Ultimately, the frenetic partying of the film's early section gives way to melancholic contemplation.

Bright Young Things relies on startling contrasts, between Victorian stolidity and modern freedom, the frivolity of youth and the disenchantment of maturity, the well-to-do and the struggling. The film itself suffers from the contrast of the material. It doesn't know whether it's a satire or a drama, and in juggling the two genres it feels oddly schizophrenic.

This isn't necessarily on account of the performances, although some of them seem a tad exaggerated - fine for satire, but not for the drama. Emily Mortimer is just a trifle too vacant as Nina, and Fenella Woolgar just a little too arch as party girl Agatha. Moore, on the other hand, brings just the right measure of Bertie Wooster-ish obliviousness to his role, while also handling the pathos with restraint. As for the supporting roles, Dan Aykroyd and Simon Callow are so ostentatiously silly that you can't wait for their scenes to end, while Jim Broadbent (as a drunken major) and Peter O'Toole (as Nina's deceptively addled father) inject a fresh breath of vigor into the film. (They are, incidentally, the only ones whose performances feel truly Waugh-ish.)

Waugh was able to describe the corruption and emptiness of modern life while maintaining his sharp, acid tone. Fry, on the other hand, strains to convince us just how fabulously decadent, as well as sad and sordid, it all was. When the exaggerated shallowness of the characters in the film's first half gives way to earnest ness in the second, we are left wondering precisely what we're looking at. Fry delivers a mildly diverting film, but confuses it with melodrama. Arthur Vaughan
August 20, 2004



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