Apr 1, 2011

[Movies] The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

The Importance of Being Earnest (2003)I am neither for nor against period films, but I do seem to have a knack for avoiding them. And to be specific, I seem to generally avoid period pieces located in the US and the UK for some reason, although I have enjoyed watching an number of them. I guess I rarely wake up with the feeling of "I want to watch a period movie today" or something like that. But when I do, the results can be pretty entertaining at times.

Or sometimes they're just sadly droll, but more on the side of being weird and dull that strictly being humorous. It's a weird feeling and one that I can't quite put into words very accurately. Maybe I'll figure it out in time.

So I can't state clearly why I chose to watch this movie the other day to any specific detail. The urge just came up as I was browsing through our movie collection and then before I knew it, my partner and I were watching. Go figure.

At least it was a comedy - had this somehow been warped into a drama (which a greater challenge than turning it into a movie, when you really think about it), well, then I doubt I wouldn't have enjoyed myself as much.

The Importance of Being Earnest is the 2002 movie adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic of the same name. It was directed by Oliver Parker, who later directed the adaptation of the Oscar Wilde book, Dorian Gray.

At the center of the movie are friends John "Jack" Worthing (Colin Firth) and his very close friend Algernon "Algy" Moncrieff (Rupert Evert). Jack's quirk is that whenever he goes to London from his estate in the country, he claims to be visiting his non-existent brother Ernest. Once in London, he takes on the Ernest role in order to maintain a unique degree of privacy and because Gwendolyn (Frances O'Connor), the woman he loves, seems enamored with the name Ernest in particular. He eventually tells Algy about this and the story takes a new twists from this point.

Algy then journeys to Jack's Hertfordshire estate and declares that he is in fact Ernest come to visit his brother. While there, he starts courting Jack's young ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon), who quickly falls in love with him and his fictitious name. Meanwhile in London, Ernest-Jack attempts to formally propose to Gwendolyn but finds a new obstacle to this marriage in the form of Lady Augusta Bracknell (Judi Dench), who acts as Gwendolyns guardian.

Eventually the two Ernests and theirs respective loves all converge at Hertfordshire and everything become a heck of a lot more interesting because of it.

Now to be fair, we have to first acknowledge the power of the original work that this movie was based on. Oscar Wilde's original comedy of manners stage play was generally well-received when it was released in 1895 and since then it has been a highly popular play amongst various theater audiences. And this also wasn't the first time the play had been adapted to film - there was a 1952 adaptation before this one, which remains a classic in its own regard.

This movie didn't try to modernize the story or change the setting, which has become rather common in an attempt to give such "classic" stories wider appeal. Instead, it simply sought out to do justice to the original story and in this regard I feel they did rather well.

I'm not a particular fan of Colin Firth, nor am I against him either. Admittedly, his performance here was rather impressive and he helped carry the movie quite well. More importantly though, the dynamic between him and Rupert Everett was certainly refreshing and at times highly genuine. It was the chemistry between the two actors that really helped the movie shine and quite frankly Everett wasn't much without Firth on-screen.

Dame Judi Dench, arrival for the premiere of &...Image via WikipediaOf course the woman who truly stole the show was Dame Judi Dench, which is generally to be expected given her acting prowess and how well-written a character Lady Bracknell is. Every time she was in the scene, your attention was inevitably drawn in her direction. This had me wondering (1) what the possible merits of an M-centric James Bond movie could be and (2) why haven't we seen more comedies trying to work with her as a central protagonist? Age has done nothing at all to slow her down and I'll continue to love to see her work whether it be a serious piece or a light comedy like this one.

Oddly enough, Witherspoon was rather forgettable in this movie. I'm not sure if this is because her role really wasn't all that big or perhaps Reese just doesn't come out too striking in a movie like this. You tell me.

The overall movie was rather well put-together with good writing and more importantly good acting and delivery. No matter how well-written any performance is, if the actors themselves can't bring the characters to life then it all goes to pot.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a story that truly stands the test of time and this particular adaptation is a great addition to the many performances of this play over the years. It gets 4 quirky moments of Ernest being confused for Ernest out of a possible 5.


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