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Good Woman [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Set in the 1930s on the beautiful shores of the Italian Riviera, A Good Woman follows the seductive Mrs. Erlynne (Hunt), scorned by many as a woman of ill repute, leaves New York for the Amalfi coast, where she hopes to find a new patron among the vacationing aristocrats. The mean-spirited gossip stirred up by Mrs. Erlynnes arrival isnt enough to dissuade the jovial, kind-hearted Lord Augustus (Wilkinson) from falling in love with her. But Mrs. Erlynne has already set her sights on the married Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers), a wealthy young American who falls quickly under her spell. Windermeres faithful wife, Meg (Johansson), is herself distracted by the flirtatious overtures of Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), a notorious playboy. But when she learns of her husbands blossoming affair, Meg resorts to drastic measures, with unexpected consequences for everyone involved.
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On the positive side, Stephen Campbell-Moore gave an elegant and utterly convincing performance as a charming but slightly dissolute aristocrat. John Standing was delightful as the slightly squiffy socialite. Milena Vukotic provided many hilarious moments with a perfectly straight face. In fact, all the supporting characters gave very good performances, but the stand-out was undoubtedly Tom Wilkinson who routinely stole every scene he was in. What saved this film was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Oscar Wilde's epigrams which ran like a bubbling stream throughout the play. In fact it was almost overdone, as nearly all of Wilde's famous quips seem to have been utilized, many harvested from his other material.
The play urges society to take an honest look at how narrow-minded attitudes and malicious gossip can wreak havoc with innocent people's lives when "circumstantial evidence" is taken at face value, and also how sometimes the truth can hurt more than a discreet obfuscation of past events. It also shows how someone with a bad reputation can rise above a blemished past and achieve redemption through an act of noble self-sacrifice. Anyone familiar with Wilde's life will recognize his personal knowledge of these themes, however, in his inimitable style he makes his points through humour rather than by preaching. Another excellent reason to watch this production is the visual feast of the villa interiors and the beautifully photographed Amalfi location. I have deducted a star because of the uneven cast, but that has not stopped me from watching this DVD several times already and, to me, the brilliant dialogue alone would justify a purchase.
Helen Hunt is just fabulous, playing the role of a middle-aged American woman who excels at milking money out of rich gentlemen in New York. The first scene of the movie shows how she's forced to escape. She ends up in Italy where she gets strangely involved with a freshly married young American man. His wife, in turn, becomes a target of an inventive and persistent aristocrat playboy form England. The plot is very captivating and full of surprises.
The movie is based on a story "Lady Windermere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde, so you might already know what's it all about. I have no idea if and how much the movie might be different from the book, but I'm looking forward to reading it. This movie got me interested in Oscar Wilde. It's mostly because it contains so many adorable puns and aphorisms, like:
"Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future."
"Do you think she would look at you if you were poor?" - "Do you think I would look at her if she was ugly?"
On the other hand, this abundance of brilliant verbal humour is also mildly disturbing. When every third sentence is something witty, it gets a bit tiring to follow. I mean, you don't want the soup that is all water, but this movie is like the soup with almost no water in it, and that's not too good either.
In spite of that, I've watched the movie three times by now and I absolutely recommend it. A lady friend of mine watched it twice and loved it, too.
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