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Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Frances O'Connor

Directed by: Oliver Parker
Written by: Oliver Parker & Oscar Wilde
Produced by: Barnaby Thompson, Uri Fruchtmann
Distributor: Miramax

US: 01/06/02 UK: 06/09/02

Another reworking of Oscar Wildes classic tale of young love. Two young gents living in 1890’s England have taken to bending the truth in order to put some excitement into their lives. Worthing (Firth) has invented a brother, Earnest, whom he uses as an excuse to leave his dull country life behind to visit the ravishing Gwendolyn (O’Connor). Montcrieff (Everett) decides to take the name “Earnest” when visiting Worthing’s young and beautiful ward, Cecily (Witherspoon) at the country manor. Things start to go awry when they end up together in the country and their deceptions are discovered - threatening to spoil their romantic pursuits.



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Rupert Everett coaches Reese Witherspoon on her English accent

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.



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