In 10 Words or Less
Oscar Wilde meets Scarlett Johansson...and Helen Hunt?
Likes: Scarett Johansson, Oscar Wilde, Tom Wilkinson
Dislikes: Miscast actors
Hates: Boring movies
I was about half the way through the film when my wife walked in the room and asked me what I was watching.
"A Good Woman."
She asked if I was reviewing it.
She asked what it was about.
It was then I realized that I really didn't know. It was as if I had been staring at a blank screen for 40 minutes. The film had so failed to interest me that my brain shut off and occupied itself with other matters. So I needed to flip back to the beginning of the film and start over, a task I didn't look forward to after my first attempt.
Maybe 20 minutes into the movie, my wife asked me, "What's the name of this movie?"
"A Good Woman."
She asked again a short while later, confessing that she simply couldn't focus on the movie. She wasn't the only one in the room who couldn't. The story of a young politician, his beautiful young bride and the woman with a secret who comes between them just wasn't all that enthralling. Attempting to cram a shoebox full of witty Oscar Wilde quotes into a 90-minute film, the movie fails to come together as a movie, existing instead as a collection of scenes for characters to talk during.
The plot surrounds Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt), an American with a bad reputation and no money, who heads to Italy seeking a new sugar daddy. She has her sights on Robert Windermere, a newly-married young man vacationing there with his wife Meg (Scarlett Johansson). Drawing Robert into a blackmail scheme, she works her way into their lives and sets the local gossips buzzing, especially when she romances Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) and Lord Darlington, and Lord Darlington shows interest in Meg. The film becomes an exercise in misunderstandings and the power of idle chatter, as their various entanglements begin to choke them.
The film, especially the ending, only works if you care about the characters, all of whom are defined primarily on the surface through their cute quips. As such, the movie is hard to get into, without any character to really latch onto. It's worse when you have an actress like Hunt involved, who is more or less typecast as your friendly aunt, playing a seductress. It's not that she isn't attractive. It's the fact that she doesn'texude danger or mystery in any way. It's unclear how anyone is supposed to take her seriously in the role. Johansson, on the other hand, is good as the naive and loving young wife. She may not have a lot to do in the film, other than look desirable, but she does it well.
The rest of the cast is tasked with throwing about Wilde's best lines, set against beautiful backdrops, a skill at which they are adept. Wilkinson, who is quickly becoming a small-film favorite of mine, is perfect for his part as the well-intentioned older man looking to make a good woman out of Mrs. Erlynne. There's just not enough part for him to sink his teeth into. Also working against the film is the confused tone. Wilde's lines are humorous in most every case, but the film is decidedly serious about the story, when it should be a good time. There's no reason for a story about high society's misplaced belief in reputation needs to come across like this, especially when drawing upon Wilde's work.
A Good Woman is a one-DVD release, packed in a standard keepcase, without any inserts. While I understand the need to draw in browsing customers with a big headshot of Johansson on the cover, it's a shame they didn't go with the lovely period-appropriate art used for the film's theatrical poster. The DVD features an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scenes and view the special features. Language options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks, and English and Spanish subtitles, along with closed captioning. The scene selection menus have titles and animated previews for each scene.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nice, handling the variety of color palettes well. The film has a touch of softness to it, but it's not distracting and seems to be intentional, as the level of detail in the picture is uniformly solid. Some slight edge enhancement can be seen in spots, and some very minor dirt crops up occasionally. Overall, it's a fine transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and clean when it comes to dialogue, which is key considering the film is predominantly talking. The rear and surround speakers get to carry some atmospheric sound and enhanced music, but there's nothing about it that's very dynamic. Simply put, it does the job it needs to do.
The only true extra here is a feature-length audio commentary with director Mike Barker and producer Alan Greenspan. The pair gets along well, and seems to enjoy chatting about the movie, talking about how the film was made and discussing the storyline. Some moments of silence are heard here and there, but for the most part they have plenty to say.
Also included on this DVD are seven trailers: Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Cat's Meow, Dogville, Beyond the Sea, The Cooler, Danny Deckchair and Stage Beauty. Though this isn't a Sony DVD, there's no trailer for the main feature.
The Bottom Line
If you like Oscar Wilde, there's a chance you might enjoy this film, which is peppered with his wit (along with several others'), but you have to travel through a good deal of filler to find it. The movie adapts the playwright without the grace it needs, like a drama class presenting "The Best of Wilde" by reading quotes from a book instead of acting. The film does have two things going for it at least, in the eyecandy of Johansson and the well-shot scenery. The DVD delivers the film with a proper presentation, throwing in a quality commentary for anyone looking for more from the movie. I can't recommend this film, especially not as long as Hunt is in it, but there's likely an audience for such an artificial period piece, as a rental only. The majority of the audience can skip it though.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.