Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Watched: A Good Woman

Adapted from an Oscar Wilde play with some liberal changes in time and setting, this 2004 lite-drama is pretty enjoyable in that it is gorgeous and witty. 

Helen Hunt is the stylish gold-digger Mrs. Erlynne who lands in Italy's Amalfi coast in 1930 to party along with the rest of a small group of rich types. But since she describes herself as 'poor and infamous' she resorts to some unsavory methods to grab the cash needed to keep her in comfort (and enviable dresses) for the length of her stay. 

Then, Meg Windermere (Johansson) is the wife of one Robert and the newly-weds are very much in love. The arrival of Mrs. Erlynne, however, stirs the waters and generates much gossip and twittering among the others of this set of idle rich. The dialog was superbly witty and charming, but this is where I became aware of just how much Oscar Wilde's one-liners have been flogged for more than a century: every time a character spouted one such incisive remark, it seemed like they were repeating borrowed lines in an attempt to sound funny. Of course that wasn't the case. Still, I wished it was the first time I was hearing the lines, because at times it felt like these people spoke almost exclusively in Wildean witticisms. 

Leaving that niggle aside, the movie is quite beautiful: it's set in 1930s Amalfi with skilled cinematography to show off the dramatic cliffs, sumptuous villas and a very nice yacht. As the story progresses around the unrest caused by Mrs. Erlynne's growing closeness to the self-deprecating Tuppy, one of the friends, there is also unresolved conflict between the young Meg and her husband. For all appearances he seems to be cheating on her, also with Mrs. Erlynne. Plus there's the young rake Lord Darlington, who pursues Meg and tries to manipulate her to his own advantage. 

In the midst of all this, I was paying a lot of attention to the clothes. They were exquisite! There is one dress in particular that has a significance in the unfolding events, a slinky, low-cut backless shimmering gown worn by both Meg and Mrs. Erlynne. In fact all the outfits are lovely. (I wish I was born in that era just for the clothes.)

The ending has a nice twist to tie things up neatly, as I was hoping since it was a Wilde story. I've been watching a lot of movies with wide-open endings and this one didn't have that. In fact the little twist requires the viewer to figure it out, and if you don't think about it because you're busy looking at the dresses, you may miss it. 

Tom Wilkinson as the endearingly self-aware realist, Tuppy, was a charmer. Scarlett Johansson, while pretty and naive, didn't have much of a range here: the expression in her eyes didn't change throughout the film. And Helen Hunt was fine, even if she did get the job of speaking almost exclusively in impossibly wise aphorisms.

A Good Woman is frothy, bubbly and pretty, like a good glass of the Champagne that everyone in this golden Amalfi summer quaffs so liberally. I'd even watch it again in a few years, it's a great way to spend an afternoon.

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