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'A Good Woman' emerges as quintessential Oscar Wilde
By Mark Moorehead

February 4, 2006

At the core of every Oscar Wilde play, lies his distain for the stuffy upper class and the superficiality of their everyday lives. A Good Woman is an adaptation of one of Wilde’s earlier works reflecting that familiar theme. The time period has been moved forward from the late 19th century to the 1930s and the setting is the sun-soaked Italian coast of Amalfi. If Wilde were alive he would probably welcome the change in venue. However, if he watched how his story plays out on the big screen in 2006, he might not be as charitable.

Plot was never critical to Wilde. A rough outline of a story was all that was required to showcase his witticisms. The settings are often just a few rooms with an eclectic ensemble of folks popping in and out, delivering stinging criticisms or intimate revelations culminating in secrets revealed. Fortunately, A Good Woman deviates from those Spartan settings and transports us to open air locales dripping with wealth and breathtaking scenery.

Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt), a penniless Manhattan socialite and “woman of ill repute,” has exhausted her wealthy patrons in New York city and moved to the sparkling Italian Riviera, looking for her next meal ticket among the vacationing aristocrats.

She meets a young couple, Meg (Scarlett Johansson) and Robert Wildemere (Mark Umbers), and immediately sets her sights on the wealthy Wildemere. Their instant friendship is mistaken for an adulterous affair that generates mean-spirited gossip among friends and neighbors. None of this dissuades the available and good-natured Lord Agustus (Tom Wilkinson) from falling in love with the charming Mrs. Erlynne.

In turn, Wildemere’s faithful young wife is pursued by notorious playboy Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore). Meanwhile Mr. Wildemere is writing checks to Mrs. Erlynne but they’re not, surprisingly, for services rendered. When pouty-lipped Meg learns of her husband’s generosity affair she resorts to drastic measures with unexpected consequences. All is not what it seems and a mistaken identify is shockingly revealed.

Don’t worry; I won’t spoil it by spilling the secret.

During all these “goings on,” we’re witnesses to Wilde’s acerbic wit as the characters exercise their verbal muscles in quick paced exchanges. For example, “You have no redeeming vices,” “I’m infamous and poor,” “Bigamy’s having one wife too many. So is monogamy,” “The best way to keep my word is never to give it,” and “My own business bores me. I much prefer other people’s.”

The two British actors, Wilkinson and  Campbell Moore, deliver some of these biting lines with great effect and keep the audience waiting for more.

The same cannot be said for American actresses Hunt and  Johansson. Although Johansson looks the part she seems uncomfortable with the dialogue. As for Hunt, she is miscast in the role as a sophisticated and sensuous Femme Fatale.

Sadly, she speaks her lines as if she is actually reading the script for the first time. She is not a convincing seductress with a heart of gold.

Suffice to say this is not necessarily an Oscar- worthy performance on the big screen. Nevertheless, the memorable Italian scenery and Wilde’s dialogue alone are worth the price of admission.

Pecan Groves Estates resident Mark Moorhead writes regularly for Wrangler News.


Mark's Movie Meter

General Audiences: B-

Adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s original play starring Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson set on the Italian Coast in the 1930s. Those who don’t like literate, witty, talky films will be bored. Nothing objectionable

Family Audiences: B-
Rated PG for thematic material (translation: adult relations), sensuality (no nudity or sex), and language (if there was a bad word I missed it). Mature children familiar with Hunt and Johansson should enjoy the film. However, if you take younger children they’ll think they’re being punished.


















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