IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
After the masterful An Ideal Husband, Parker returns to Oscar Wilde for
this next project, another witty comedy with a fantastic British cast.
So why is the film so uneven? Algy and Jack (Everett and Firth) are
lifelong friends and wayward bachelors in Victorian England. Jack has
invented a brother named Earnest to give him an excuse to escape from
his country house to London, where he can woo the lovely Gwendolyn
(O'Connor), even though her mother (Dench) is not thrilled about the
idea. Then Algy hatches a scheme to pose as Earnest so he can meet
Jack's lovely young ward Cecily (Witherspoon), and a chain of events
unravels to question just about everyone's true identity.
First the good things: Wilde's dialog and insight are
fantastic--intelligent and witty, sharp and skewering, with characters
that act on hidden motives and utter timeless quotes left and right. And
as the story gets more and more chaotic, the strands come together
wonderfully. Strangely, Parker doesn't seem sure about how to play it.
Instead of the biting dark comedy of An Ideal Husband, he goes for a
more silly rom-com feel here, which undermines just about everything.
The romances aren't believable, the comedy isn't funny (only the Wilde
wit is) and the cast never seem to know what to do with themselves,
veering between camp farce and sophisticated humour. Firth is the only
one with any consistency; Witherspoon is the only one who's actually
funny; Massey and Wilkinson are hopelessly miscast together. It's all
so stilted that it's almost painful to watch at times. With this cast,
this filmmaker and this source material, we aggressively want to like
it. But we can't.