Poor Paris Hilton - one minute she's on top of the world, co-starring in brainless reality TV shows and cradling Tinkerbell, the next she's frantically trying to recover lost data from her hacked Sidekick. The rich have always had it rough, both in this country and others - something about a person attaining fabulous wealth and then living it up really rubs us average schmoes the wrong way. For all the grief we ladle upon the upper tax bracket, it's comforting to know some things in life remain constant - or so writer/director Stephen Fry (well known in Europe for a variety of projects; Yanks might know him recently as the auctioneer in 2003's Le Divorce) would have you believe in his quick-witted dissection of the idle upper classes, Bright Young Things.
Adapted by Fry from Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel "Vile Bodies," a caustic satire on the London cafe society of the era, Fry's effortless peek behind the mansion walls is vivid, vibrant and veddy, veddy British. Focused on a young novelist, Adam Fenwick-Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), his erstwhile lover, Nina (Emily Mortimer) and the decadence surrounding them, Fry posits that life circa now is not so very different from life circa then. Paparazzi, naughty deeds, wild parties and a general sense of invincibility - a weekend with Lindsay Lohan, anyone?
Fry deftly handles the sizable cast (comprised chiefly of unknowns, all of whom acquit themselves well) as well as the difficult transition to a more sober narrative, late in the film as the inescapable reality that is World War II comes crashing down on Britain. Hey, the party's gotta end sometime. With appearances from Dan Aykroyd, Peter O'Toole and Jim Broadbent, Fry packs his film with cutting observations as well as deeply felt human moments. The garish bacchanal of the film's early moments gives way to a calmer, more meditative feel near the film's conclusion - all in all, it's an underrated gem that not nearly enough people saw upon general release.
While celebrities and the grossly wealthy haven't necessarily learned to behave since the Thirties, Bright Young Things indeed is as relevant today as when Waugh first put poison pen to paper. The more things change, the more they stay the same indeed.
Bright Young Things is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks amazing - while the film was tweaked in post-production to look overly saturated, the image nevertheless looks fantastic throughout. No edge enhancement, grain or dirt cloud this picture; occasionally there is some crushing in the more singularly colored scenes, but generally, this is a really sharp image.
Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo are onboard; while Bright Young Things doesn't give the speakers too much of a workout, the mad whirl of music and dialogue remains clear and intelligible throughout. There are a few directional effects, but for the most part, it's just conversation - devastatingly witty conversation, mind you.
A refreshing lack of pretension is evident throughout all of the bonus materials assembled here; director Fry contributes a genial, low-key commentary track that highlights technical nuts and bolts, as well as inspirations for certain scenes (for instance, how the party sequences - and all of the film for that matter - were digitally color graded). He even points out his brief cameo as a chauffeur. Also included is a nine and half minute anamorphic widescreen behind-the-scenes featurette pompously titled "Stephen Fry: Director." It's a funny look at what Fry went through during his freshman spin behind the camera. The real fun comes with the 30-minute non-anamorphic widescreen "Bottom Up: A Runner's Perspective on Making Bright Young Things." Filmmaker (and production assistant) Shane Davey takes viewers through a fascinating look at the grunt level work that goes into a motion picture; most of the film's stars appear and it's truly an engaging (and not often seen) look at the minutiae of day-to-day filming. Trailers for Birth and The Notebook are also included.
Stephen Fry's bow behind the camera is an enjoyable, thoroughly professional outing that proves he can handle comedy and drama in equal measure. It's an assured debut that will hold many pleasures for fans of Brit-themed dramas; the curious among you would do well to check it out if the video store's out of copies of The Simple Life. Highly recommended.