The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) Poster

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A misinterpretation
DeeNine-221 April 2003
This is an inventive and artful production of Oscar Wilde's play, but I can confidently say that were Oscar Wilde alive today, he would be appalled at the misuse to which his play has been put. Indeed I think I feel the ground rumbling as he rolls over in his grave, and yes he is actually spinning in anguish.

Oliver Parker, who directed and wrote the screen adaptation, simply misinterpreted the play. He focused on the "dashing young bachelors" when the real focus of the play is Lady Bracknell, the absurd and beautifully ironic representation of the Victorian mind who was then and has been for over a hundred years Wilde's singular creation and one of the great characters of English literature. She is supposed to steal every scene she is in and we are to double take everyone of her speeches as we feel that she is simultaneous absurd and exactly right. Instead Judi Dench's Lady Bracknell (and I don't blame Dench who is a fine actress) is harsh and stern and literal to the point of being a controlling matriarch when what Wilde had in mind was somebody who was both pompous and almost idiotic yet capable of a penetrating and cynical wisdom (so like the author's). Compared to Dane Edith Evans's brilliant performance in the celebrated cinematic production from 1952, Dench's Lady Bracknell is positively one-dimensional.

The point of Wilde's play was to simultaneously delight and satirize the Victorian audience who came to watch the play. This is the genius of the play: the play-goer might view all of the values of bourgeois society upheld while at the same time they are being made fun of. Not an easy trick, but that is why The Importance of Being Earnest is considered one of the greatest plays ever written. This attempt turn it into a light entertainment for today's youthful audiences fails because this play is not a romantic comedy. It is more precisely a satire of a romantic comedy. Its point and Wilde's intent was to make fun of Victorian notions of romance and marrying well and to expose the mercantile nature of that society. It is probably impossible to "translate" the play for the contemporary film viewer since a satire of today's audiences and today's society would require an entirely different set of rapiers.

Parker's additions to the play only amounted to distractions that diluted the essence of the play's incomparable wit. Most of Wilde's witticisms were lost in the glare of Parker's busy work. Recalling Lady Bracknell as a dance hall girl in her youth who became pregnant before being wed was ridiculous and not only added nothing, but misinterpreted her character. Lady Bracknell is not a hypocrite with a compromised past. She is everything she pretends to be and that is the joke. Showing Algernon actually running through the streets to escape creditors or being threatened with debtor's prison was silly and again missed the point. Algy was "hard up" true and in need of "ready money" but his bills would be paid. Gwendolyn in goggles and cap driving a motor car also added nothing and seemed to place the play some years after the fact.

The big mistake movie directors often make when making a movie from a stage play is to feel compelled to get the play off the stage and out into the streets and countryside. Almost always these attempts are simply distractions. Some of the greatest adaptations--Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire from 1951 comes immediately to mind--played it straight and didn't try anything fancy. Here Parker seems obsessed with "dressing up" the play. What he does is obscure it.

On the positive side the costumes were beautiful and Anna Massy was an indelible Miss Prism. Reese Witherspoon at least looked the part of Cecily and she obviously worked hard. Rupert Evertt had some moments in the beginning that resembled Wilde's Algernon, but he was not able to sustain the impersonation.

My recommendation is that you not bother with this production and instead get the 1952 film starring, in addition to Edith Evans, Michael Redgrave and Margaret Rutherford. It is essentially true to the play as Wilde wrote it, and is a pure delight.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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Witty and fun
ArizWldcat14 June 2002
Films like this need to be more widely available. It was showing at one theater 45 miles from my house, but it was worth the drive to go and see it. The script was witty, and seemed to be fairly true to the Oscar Wilde play (at least a lot of the funniest lines were retained). What a great cast! Colin Firth and Rupert Evert were both wonderful as rogues. I loved the "fight" scene!! As did most of the others in the theater, as there was lots of laughter all around. Reese Witherspoon did a good job with her British accent, and she and Frances O'Connor were both a lot of fun to watch. Judi Dench was marvelous, as usual. I highly recommend this wasn't really deep or anything, just very funny!
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Should I see this film? It is rather Quixotic... but I think you should try.
MidniteRambler11 June 2004
Wealthy London bachelor Jack Worthing falls for Gwendolen, cousin of London socialite Algy, who has in turn fallen for Jack's ward, Cecily. Amongst other barriers to both relationships is the determination of both ladies to marry men called Ernest, leading Algy and Jack to pretend that Ernest is, indeed, their given name. Another stumbling block is the ubiquitous Lady Bracknell, Algy's aunt and Gwendolen's mother, who refuses to accept Jack as a suitor for her daughter because he was a foundling, discovered as a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station. Playwright Oscar Wilde put into Lady Bracknell's mouth some of the most delicious comments in stage history: "To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution".

The story follows the ups and downs and deceits of the two men whilst they pursue Gwendolen and Cecily, dogged by Algy's creditors and Lady Bracknell, whose opposition to Jack's origins proves insurmountable. On the way we learn of Jack's brother who does not exist yet manages to die in a Paris boarding house, and Algy's invalid friend Bunbury who also never drew breath yet nevertheless explodes on the advice of his physician. The situation remains unresolved until the final scene, when all the protagonists have collided at Jack's country estate.

This interpretation of Oscar Wilde's play may not suit purists. Oliver Parker takes a few liberties with the original, adding a couple of off-the-wall touches such as Gwendolen having "Ernest" tattooed on her rear end. None of this detracts from the film precisely because this is a film and not a filmed play and as a stand-alone movie this is highly enjoyable fare and remains graced by Wilde's eternal and inimitable wit.

The cast, too, is outstanding. Reese Witherspoon as Cecily mastered an English accent and, along with Colin Firth as Jack, Frances O'Connor as Gwendolen and Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell (Aunt Augusta), is first-rate; the film also boasts Edward Fox, Tom Wilkinson and Anna Massey in supporting roles. Lastly, no-one plays Wilde's nihilistic, aristocratic and insouciant wasters quite like Rupert Everett, who was designed for such parts.

Oscar Wilde's play is timeless and priceless and his wit dominates the proceedings; matched to a cast with the acting talent of this troupe, it does not fail. Wilde and English period drawing room comedies are an acquired taste and, for those unsure of their nature, can be distinguished by the conspicuous absence of gunfire, vulgar Anglo-Saxonisms, explosions, wizards, references to def-con 2, giants, breasts, giant breasts and Steven Seagal: if any of these is your cup of tea, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want to watch a team of gifted actors delivering with great aplomb some of the smartest dialogue in English literary history, The Importance of Being Earnest is not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

"Is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I only ask because until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a terminus."
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A treat indeed!
windspray6 July 2002
It is a rare treat when you go to the movies expecting not very much but walking away with so much more! After reading the reviews here as well as some professional reviews, I almost decided to pass this one by and what a pity it would have been. Sounds like my unfamiliarity with Wilde's play and the previous version of this movie was to my advantage. After all I could view this movie based on its own merits without any other comparisons getting in the way. What a glorious summer treat and a wonderfully fun vehicle to discover Oscar Wilde's hilarious play and for that matter Wilde in general. Couldn't have asked for a better audience to watch this with here in the South. They were enthusiastic, obviously familiar with Wilde, remained for the credits, and clapped at the end. Can't remember the last time that happened,can you? Again, what a lovely surprise this movie was with absolutely marvelous chemistry between Mr. Firth and Mr. Everett, a sweet supporting cast, not to mention the beautiful production values. After seeing the movie, I almost immediately hunted for the text of the play and read it straight through.
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I loved it!
unclepete24 June 2003
There do seem to be some scathing reviews here, but I have to say that I loved it!

I first started by reading the play, then watching the 1952 version, and then this latest reworking. The cast were absolutely stellar, though I'd go along with the criticism that they were just a little too deadpan in places. The sheer quantity of wit and wordplay in this script make it difficult to keep up, and it's often only in a reading that you realise that just about every other line is a hilarious gag.

I really can't understand an earlier criticism that a viewer couldn't make out any of the dialogue. I though it was wonderfully recorded with crystal clear diction throughout, but maybe that's an international difference. I'm lucky to make out about one third of anything the children say in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

Anyway - it was well filmed, great locations, and wonderful wit delivered by beautiful people. I loved it.
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The dumbing-down of Oscar Wilde
trendell-129 May 2002
Years ago I read a satirical piece by Fran Lebowitz in which she formulated the ultimate put-down for a young man whose intelligence, or lack of same, had inspired her displeasure. He was, she said, the sort of person whose lips moved while he watched television. It's a wicked slight, but I confess to thinking that Oliver Parker might have had that very fellow in mind when he butchered Oscar Wilde's brilliant play to make this awful film.

And it's really too bad, because the portents for the production were - on the surface at least - very good. You start with a great play by a great writer, who was also a great humorist. It's probable that only Shakespeare penned more quotable lines than Oscar Wilde did. And even Shakespeare probably did not write so many that were funny. The cast choices also looked good: Colin Firth and Rupert Everett as the male leads, the two false "Ernests"; the formidable Judi Dench as the even more formidable Lady Bracknell; Frances O'Connor as Gwendolen Fairfax; and Reese Witherspoon as Cecily Cardew - Witherspoon doing a creditable "Gwyneth Paltrow" turn with an English accent.

A bankable American star appears to be a standard requirement these days when presenting an essentially British production to viewers on this side of the Pond. Otherwise, so the illogic apparently goes, few people "over here" would turn up to see it. Of course, James Ivory did very well a decade ago with superb films like "Howard's End", and with nary an American star in sight. One supposes that Parker can be forgiven for overlooking that fact: after all, he was preoccupied with revving up the editorial chainsaw to dismember Wilde's text.

The problem with Parker's approach to the play is that Wilde wrote specifically for the theatre. Language was his tool, and few writers have used language half so brilliantly. "The Importance Of Being Earnest" is a drawing-room comedy, one of the best in the repertoire, a very funny, extremely literate play about manners, attitudes and conventions in Victorian England. It's a clever and tightly integrated work, a small masterpiece, where dialogue begets more dialogue, wry observations and witticisms proliferate, all of them ultimately spun into a seamless satirical whole.

That's not to say that Wilde can't be made into a "motion" picture. Three years ago, Parker did a creditable, if slightly sappy job on "An Ideal Husband". Perhaps buoyed by that modest success, he felt he could take Wilde - through "The Importance Of Being Earnest" - to a new level. And he has. Unfortunately, the place he has taken it is so far below theatrical sea-level that oxygen is required for basic survival. In hacking the text to ribbons - it seems that almost half of the dialogue has been discarded - he has so compromised the context of the piece that the end result is almost incomprehensible. Think of it as the ultimate dumbing-down of Oscar Wilde.

A short list of items in the film that are astonishingly un-funny. Gwendolen Fairfax having "Ernest" tattooed on her ass in a disreputable London district. Algernon Moncrieff arriving at Jack Worthing's country estate in a hot-air balloon. Algernon leaping in and out of carriages, and climbing through windows, and scurrying down alleyways to avoid his herds of creditors. Algernon spitting food all over himself when he meets Jack at the country house. Algernon and Jack in a wrestling match over a plate of muffins. Jack having Gwendolen's name tattooed on his ass as the credits roll by at the end of the film.

Urgent memo to Oliver Parker: Oscar Wilde is not about slapstick.

It was suggested in an earlier comment on IMDB that if you've never seen the play, as written, you might find Parker's film amusing; but if you have seen the play, you probably won't. That's good advice. Happily, the original 1952 film is available on VHS, and will soon be available on DVD. It was directed by Anthony Asquith. Wisely, Asquith kept his film solidly within the theatre's embrace, even starting the piece with a curtain rising before an invisible audience. And he had an English cast that was to die for - Michael Redgrave, Michael Denison, Joan Geeenwood, Dorothy Tutin, Margaret Rutherford, Miles Malleson. Asquith produced a brilliant film, a triumph of intelligence, style and taste, everything that Wilde and his admirers could have wished it to be - and everything that Parker's film is not.

A final note. Shortly after the film was released, Colin Firth gave an interview that was published in The Globe & Mail, a major Canadian newspaper out of Toronto. In the interview, Firth lamented that he lived in a society - England - that pretended to be literate, but in fact was not. The irony implicit in his comment is almost too delicious. I'm certain that Oscar Wilde would have loved it.
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Colin Firth at his very best!
dmombit25 June 2002
As a huge fan of the play, I didn't expect to see a theatre production. Get real! A movie calls for a much more full-bodied vino and that's what the movie-goer gets with this film.

The production values were excellent, the costuming superb, and the actors brilliantly cast. Including Reese Witherspoon who more than held her own in the august British cast.

Judi Dench was quintessentially "denchian" as was the outrageous Rupert Everett. Always a delight to behold on the beeg screen. The actress portraying "Gwendolyn" was saucy and sexy and fun. But, saving the best for last, I was most impressed with Colin Firth's range. Generally cast as the tall, dark, brooding and Byronic hero, it was fun to see him showing real visions of his acting abilities. His facial expressions were a visual treat and we chuckled in our theater seats during the closing credits as the "Gwendolyn" tattoo was being applied to "Jack's" derriere. The reactions he showed us had a very real ring to them.

Yep! This Colin Firth fan is having a hard time to clinging to the duo "Mr Darcy's" of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Bridget Jones' Diary" as her fav roles now that she's seen him in "Earnest."

Can't wait for it to go to video (DVD-o) to add it to the burgeoning collection of his work.

It was funny, irreverent, slightly modern, and an enjoyable Sunday afternoon treat.
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Really well done
loofahcat4 July 2002
I loved this movie!! I had read the play before seeing it and enjoyed the play but I absolutely LOVED the movie. I enjoyed the adding of the fantasy scenes and the tattoo. I thought Colin Firth was wonderful as Jack/Ernest and I enjoyed how he, as usual, says so much with his facial expressions and doesn't even need to speak a word for the audience to understand the way he is feeling or what he is desirous of saying. And his singing was pretty good too! :) I also thought Judi Dench was excellent as Lady Bracknel in her desire to make sure her daughter made a proper match. Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett all were also very good. However the man that kept my main attention was the very handsome, very talented actor, COLIN FIRTH!
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What were they thinking?
nadiamerrill25 September 2002
I understand that this play has already been filmed several times before, the best perhaps being the 1952 version. However, the liberties taken for this adaptation with flow and characterization were beyond what I could enjoy. A previous comment mentioned that the words were virtually uncut, but I beg to differ. With a running time of slightly over 1 1/2 hours, there was far too much cut. I don't believe I've ever seen a production that was shorter than 2 hours. I can never really understand how people can laud a playwright and then change his/her work. If you really think that Wilde holds up well today, why the need to "fix" his plays? And then there's the flashback at the end of the film involving Lady Bracknell that was way over the top. P-lease.
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The Importance of Being Witty
zellex10 May 2005
I have always been a great fan of Oscar Wilde, and consider him as a playwright to be under-rated. His plays are often dismissed as shallow, but they are some of the greatest comedic writings of all time, in my opinion. The witty repartee that Wilde's characters engage in, particularly in The Importance of Being Earnest, is hilarious in most performances.

What a pity, then, that this production of it drags its feet like a drunken yeti (Yes, that's right, a drunken yeti. Use your imagination). It is slow and ponderous, where it should be quickly paced and light. It is morbid and dramatic, where it should be witty and amusing. The screenwriter of this adaptation and the director both deserve to be lined up against a wall and shot. And I simply cannot describe what should be done to Colin Firth, who plays an exceedingly dull and moronic Jack Worthington that would never have survived in London society.

In a movie that should have had the audience cackling with mirth from start to finish, the chuckles were very sparse. Most were provided either by Judi Dench, who brings some true Wildian spirit to the movie as Lady Bracknell, and Reece Witherspoon as the innocently shallow Cecily (but what the #@$& were those 'knight in shining armor' dream scenes?).

Wilde I may love, but not this movie. My rating? A disappointing 4 out of 10!
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Dreadfully plodding and a cruel waste of material
RogerBorg4 January 2007
Director/screenwriter Oliver Parker should be ashamed of himself. How on earth he managed to turn a blithe and sparkling comedy played by a superb cast into a stumbling and tiresome grind is quite beyond me, but he managed it, and in spades.

First, he dragged it out abominably. Wilde works best when ripped through at a spanking pace. It's fast and punchy, definitely part of the modern era, but Parker paces it like a funeral procession. Exchanges that are supposed to be quickfire are instead drawled, with irksome yawn-inducing pauses between the retorts.

Second, he padded it with some utterly unnecessary flashbacks, that add nothing that's not clearly covered in the exposition. We don't need to be shown it, especially as that just detracts further from the flow of the scenes.

Thirdly, even while doing this, he somehow manages to butcher some of the most vital and sparkling scenes with clumsy script cuts, notable Gwendolen and Cecily's first meeting. Instead of a rasping and pummelling duel, we are treated to an insipid and truncated tiff. Why on earth he chose to elide Gwendolen's second statement about her first opinions is baffling beyond all comprehension.

Fourth, he apparently failed to notice that the harsh lighting in most of the scenes makes all of the cast, even Ms Witherspoon, look much older than necessary, and certainly older than they should be.

Fifth, he shoehorned in some dreadfully awkward and quite out of character physical buffoonery, completely at odds with the tone of the piece.

The superb cast is wasted: poor Judy Dench is reduced to whispering her character's iconic line, I can only assume in an overly ostentatious attempt to distance this performance from previous Ladies Bracknell. Firth, Everett and O'Connor are all just a little too old to pull off their roles, and worst of all, none of the cast seem to be having any fun during the production.

This is a dreadful version of what should be a rip roaring play, that fails and disappoints on every front. Badly done, Mr Parker, badly done indeed.
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A Delightful Study in Duplicity
mimacdon45 June 2002
I must first preface this my saying that I am not nor do I claim to be a Wilde scholar. I went to see this with an open mind and it was utterly hilarious. I had to stifle the belly laughs as not to appear impolite!

The crux lies in the duplicity of the main characters Jack Worthing(Colin Firth) and Algy Montcrieff(Rupert Everett) and the challenges that arise out of their double lives. There is great chemistry between Jack and Algy;they are having so much fun on-screen that it is contagious. You feel as if you are a part of their dirty little secrets-the audience plays co-conspirator!

They want to have a bit of fun and they create doubles to live out their fantasies, in a manner of speaking. Both of the ladies that are the object of their affections, believes them to be "Earnest" when neither are.

I heartily recommend this film-it harkens back to film's in Hollywood's Golden era and celebrates human folly.
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I wish there were more movies like this
dontask6 May 2003
Great film. The story is so interesting. It seemed a bit confusing when I first heard about the movie, but as you watch it, it's easy to follow. It's such a great romantic tale, and very innocent as well. The actors are all wonderful and made this movie really funny, especially Colin Firth (who I absolutely love) and Ruppert Everett. This is a film to watch over and over. Oh, and the singing is hilarious, and quite good! lol 10/10
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Not Wilde about this version!
standardmetal18 November 2003
I wanted to like this since I did like "An Ideal Husband" pretty well so, since I found the DVD at the library, I got it out. But, as with many classics "reinterpreted" today, I found that the director felt it was incumbent to "improve" the play with much extraneous material. I realize the old version was little more than a filmed stage play and I think it can be opened up a little but this is absurd!

The actors I thought were fine in general but I thought Dame Judi didn't hold a candle to Dame Edith in the old film. Edith played it like the gorgon Lady Bracknell was supposed to be instead of imbuing her with those extraneous flashes of "humanity" and intelligence. Reese and her accent were good but the old film had Dorothy Tutin and Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn who was unique and had that voice.

And who could ever compete with Margaret Rutherford in any part she chose to play?

The song "Lady, Come Down", was not in the original play and despite being a setting of a real Oscar Wilde poem was just another feeble attempt to be "original". The DVD extras were nothing special either.

See it on the stage or stick with Asquith.

5 out of 10.
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Don't listen to the critics.
livimeikle27 July 2005
Don't be put off by other reviewers tearing this movie apart--it's perfectly marvelous. The feel, the lighthearted anachronisms of music and character, (especially the music) are perfect. The chemistry of all the characters is great, the wit sparkles, and the acting is uniformly superb.

The very point of satire, especially Wildean satire, is that it appeals to the society it is presented to. This reinterpretation, with its witty and modern feel coupled with the original humor and characters, is perfect. A wonderful way to spend an evening . . . or three or four or five.
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Very very bad version of a good play.
jane-a-mills24 February 2009
Do not see this. If you like the Oscar Wilde, the play, or have heard good things about it, see the 1952 version. That was really good.

The music is really weird and confusing, the characters are completely changed from the way Oscar Wilde meant them to be, and (I won't give it away), the ending is stupid. It has a great cast, but I was extremely disappointed in the way it was executed.

And now I need to fill up a few lines. The old version was great. I loved the characters, and the way it wasn't changed from the play. Damn, how do people write this much? The recurring famous paintings theme was a little weird. Very distracting.
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Goes Over like a Lead Balloon...
Forn5526 July 2011
This sad disappointment of a movie is what happens when you gather a group of top-notch actors together, give them one of the wittiest and funniest plays in the English language, and then put them under the direction of a film-maker who does not trust his material (which is a shame) and who furthermore believes that by tweaking it he may "improve" on it and render it more palatable for modern audiences (which is a scandal).

To do director Oliver Parker some justice, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a lighter-than-air comedy of social mores and is -- in its very essence -- not cinematic, but theatrical, as was its creator, Oscar Wilde. The witty absurdities tossed off by Wilde's characters can only truly become airborne in a theatrical milieu. An attentively listening theater audience engages in a sympathetic act of complicity with the actors on stage, one in which "the delighting ear outstrips the wicked tongue." But a movie camera is an eye, not an ear; it cannot provide the necessary complicity that would allow Wilde's arch dialogue to levitate. Robbed of that complicity, the characters die and the dialogue falls flat. Perhaps it is too much to expect this play ever to be given a 100% successful cinematic make-over.

Parker cannot be faulted for trying to translate this play into a cinematic medium; he is, however, guilty of ham-handed 're-writes,' unnecessary excursions, ill-considered excisions, and a feckless attempt to jam his cast into cinematic "dress" that doesn't fit them and that leaves them looking foolish.

Watching this film, I felt badly for all the fine actors ensnared in it. I'm betting Judi Dench has a superb Lady Bracknell somewhere in her... but it isn't on display here.

My advice is to skip this movie if you're considering seeing or renting it. Try the much better '52 Anthony Asquith movie with an amusingly rebarbative Edith Evans at the top of her form.
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The tone is all wrong.
torayume6 January 2007
I seldom comment on these things, and even more rarely to express disapproval, as art is always difficult, and one wants to commend the attempt...but, long-term fan of the writer though I am, I found myself in parts of this wondering if Oscar Wilde was really as funny as I had always found him. But of course he is. ( Why, Pacino and company found rich depth of humor in Salome...I had never even suspected...) The fault here lies with the filmmakers, and rests most particularly with Mr. Parker's curious decision to confine his attempts to be funny to self invented scenes of tattooing and ballooning and such, and play most of the actual Wilde as a drama. The line readings are slow, the Polonius light character of Lady Bracknell is given to Judi Dench, an actor of tremendous gravity, the basket scene is played as if it were the unmasking of Oedipus - I kept expecting references to pinioned feet. I haven't even mentioned the anachronistic song number, which wouldn't have worked even had the piece been set in the twenties. Just appalling.

I shouldn't complain, I suppose. The piece does have a curious, unintended virtue. The actors, in playing for subtext, and meaning (Lady Bracknell understands the personal transformation Firth intends to symbolize speaking of the death of Bumbury, as she looks deeply into Firth's eyes...I am not making this up), in playing for depth...render Wilde's piece completely clichéd and superficial. It's much deeper as froth. As an interpretation of Wilde's play, "The Importance of Being Ernest" is an utter failure. But as an illustration of certain of his aesthetic theories, it's priceless...
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Possibly the worst Firth movie ever...
MsMovie24 October 2003
... but thank God he was in it, he was the ONLY good thing about it (well, Reese Witherspoon did a good accent, so that was good too).

This is a classic, brilliant Oscar Wilde play and it was totally boring, very unfunny and very stilted. They all seemed like actors pretending they were living in the era, in amongst over the top sets and oodles of extras.

I can't say I laughed out loud at all, so the hilarity I have always experienced on seeing this in the theatre was totally missing.

The locations were lovely, but the script was either a bad adaptation or else it was just so badly directed that it just couldn't ever work.

Thank God Colin Firth rose above the mediocrity of this awful movie, and Reese Witherspoon and he, will both remained unscathed by this unwatchable remake.

And by the way, Judi Dench was at her very worst in this movie, even she didn't seem to believe what she was doing!

I would recommend anyone to wait until this movie comes free to TV, that way you can sleep through it and not be miffed you paid to see it!
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Flat & Barely Amusing
baker-929 January 2003
As someone who generally enjoyed Oliver Parker's take on Wilde's "An Ideal Husband," I was surprised at how bad this second film of "Earnest" is. Granted, "Husband" is second-tier Wilde, while "Earnest" is one of his best.

"Earnest" is a tough assignment - a perfect concoction of self-conscious artifice. As such, it's a greater challenge to adapt to film. The 1952 version with Michael Redgrave and Edith Evans tried to have it both ways, re: filmed play and movie, depending on the location of the action. But it was extremely well-played.

As for this new version, it's one thing to "open up" a play for the movies. It quite another to fill the film with a lot of stupid, incongruous, and/or anachronistic elements to artificially "update" it for contemporary audiences.

For example, Gwendolyn getting "Earnest" tatooed on her butt; Algie and Jack doing a [clumsily staged] musical number in a style more suited to the 1920's; the idiotic "knight in shining armour" fantasy sequences; having Algie and Jack discuss the latter's deception and the cigarette case in the lounge of a bordello with prostitutes on hand; revealing that Lady Bracknell was a music hall dancer (!!!) in the past. It all smacks of "try anything" desperation.

Parker does get some energy going in the first part of the film, but as soon as the action settles in the country the film goes completely slack. Comic scenes are poorly staged and edited, and the pacing becomes leaden. The juxtaposition of Wilde's comic artifice and all these natural settings takes its toll.

And the actors aren't always a help. Frances O'Connor is best, and you feel she could be a first-class Gwendolyn under better circumstances. Rupert Everett has some very good moments (mostly in the first part of the film), but as the film progresses he sometimes looks bored. Colin Firth is a rather humorless Jack Worthing, but does have some charm. Reese Witherspoon is competent, in an American-actress-on-her-best-behavior way. She gets a couple of laughs, but her acting is two-note. Again, the poor direction is probably to blame.

The biggest problem is Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell, a character who is supposed to be pompous and absurd. Dench is merely pompous, and comes off as much too piercingly intelligent to utter the kind of nonsense that Bracknell does. She isn't playing Wilde's character - she's still doing Elizabeth I from "Shakespeare In Love."

Avoid this film by all means. It's a real disaster.
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Much Better Than I Ever Imagined
ambimom19 February 2003
Don't know why this movie got such lackluster reviews. I liked it a lot. It's pleasant, well-acted, and very funny. The cast is superb. The play is witty and bright. Colin Firth, as always is deliciously controlled and seething with sex appeal. (Why did they cut off his lovely curls? Loved the wire rimmed glasses though!) Judi Dench is hilarious, Frances O'Connor is luminous, Reese Witherspoon is adorable and Rupert Everett is terribly sexy, even if he prefers boys to girls. Anna Massey and Tom Wilkinson are very funny too. This version is a vast improvement on the original Michael Redgrave version. Well worth the time spent.
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1952 version
misctidsandbits5 September 2011
I agree that the '52 version captures the essence, and I think the delight, of the play. Add to the cast mentioned in the previous review Joan Greenwood, and you have even more delights occasioned by the unique players of the "original." And Margaret Rutherford.

As long as I can see the former, I seldom prefer the latter. Some things should be left alone - definitely not re-invented.

Any success in remakes seems to come from sticking to the original, just "fresh" players. If the old stuff works, why mess with it? Do something different along similar lines, but rename it. Don't change it all about and call it the same thing.

When people like former versions (evidenced by initial AND enduring interest), they generally enjoy new (but TRUE) versions, if done half well.

Personally, I enjoy newer versions that stay with what I liked in the first place, but deplore "updates," "modernizations" and "reinventions" which basically depart from what formerly delighted. It's just annoying.

Do whatever you like, but don't call it by the same name. Create or refresh; don't despoil.

One person's opinion.
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The Disappointment of Earnest
folsominc230 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As much as I like Colin Firth ever since his portrayal in the A&E production of "Pride and Prejudice," "What a Girl Wants," and "Master of the Moor," I have to say that THIS one was a major disappointment.

Frankly, I love the original play and the dry wit and script as seen on stage and in the older version with Michael Redgrave, and eagerly looked forward to seeing Colin Firth and his delivery of lines for this movie.

Honestly, the entire movie stank from the over developed sense of egotism by the screen writer and/or director who wanted to put their own interpretation on this clever play. The fantasy scenes were tedious and the script's drastic change from the original dialogue in the middle was of the ridiculous.

Firth and his co-stars, which included the fun actress, Judi Dench, seemed to be walking through a reading of the script rather than expressing any true and sincere emotions. And their modernization of the play with the "tattoo on the rump" seems to be entirely out of place with the strictures regarding the heroine. One of the final insults to the original play is the switch of the brothers and their birth which again confused the entire issue of the plot.

Unfortunately, this is one movie that, although "clean" in nature, has lost a lot of spontaneity that could have evolved with this cast.

A "dreadful dull bore!"
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The Disneyfication of Oscar Wilde
bandw15 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
For those who have seen a quality stage performance of "The Importance of Being Earnest," this film will aggressively disappoint. Better to read the play than see this attempt to modernize it and open things up for the screen. It is hard to figure out who the intended audience is for this misfire, since most of those who appreciate Wilde will be appalled and most who do not appreciate Wilde will not likely gain that appreciation from watching this.

Why people take a classic play and think they can improve on it is a mystery to me. It's hard to know where to start. First off, the music is more appropriate for a Pink Panther movie or a 20s silent film; its jauntiness drove me nuts. A scene added to the movie that is not in the play has Algernon playing a piano and Jack strumming a guitar while they sing a song "Lady Come Down" that more appropriately belongs in a Broadway musical. Oddly, so much pride was taken in this that it was repeated in the closing credits.

The original play is nothing more than a showcase for Wilde's wit and satire and anything that takes away from that essence is no more than a distraction, and there are plenty of distractions here. We have Cecily fantasizing about a knight in armor who ultimately morphs into Algernon; Algernon arrives at Jack's estate in a hot-air balloon no less; Dr. Chasuble is played as a bumbling obsequious fool in an embarrassing performance by the fine actor Tom Wilkinson. It was when Gwendolen is seen driving across the fields in a backfiring 20s roadster wearing riding goggles that I realized what a true hash had been make of things. Algernon and Jack's fight over the muffins is pure slapstick and annoyingly negates the spirit of their argument and their personalities. In the final scene we have Gwendolen astride a white horse in the drawing room being attended by Algernon dressed in Knight's armor and Dr. Chasuble is dressed in a toga and all characters are being showered with flowers. What were they thinking?

Many of Wilde's famous quotes are here, but a lot are left out. For example, in the play Lady Bracknel actually confirms that Jack's real name is Earnest, the name he had adopted as part of a ruse. This leads Jack to respond, "Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?" However, in the movie Lady Bracknel is shown to discover that in fact Jack's real name is not Earnest, so his clever retort cannot be made. Why make such changes?

The actors give every indication that they are in on the joke, but the real humor of the play is more effective if played straight. I kept thinking about what we would have with David Niven and Michael Caine playing Jack and Algernon.

The only positive thing I can say is that the costumes and set decorations are wonderful.

The responsibility for this travesty must lie with director/screenwriter Parker.
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