Oscar Wilde would feel very much at home in today’s world. His works are filled with gossip and rumors. Watching one of his plays is like seeing an episode of a gossip show on E! set in the late 1800’s. The latest film adapted from one of his plays is filled with love, betrayal and of course gossip. A Good Woman does an adequate job adapting Wilde’s 1892 play “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
Set in the 1920’s, Italy’s Amalfi coast provides the setting as Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) fresh off her ruinous affairs with many married men in New York is looking for a new place with fresh pockets to pilfer. On her voyage over, she sees that Lady Windermere (Scarlett Johansson) and her husband (Mark Umbers) are vacationing in the area she’s traveling too.
The young Lady Windermere has complete love and trust in her husband that he would never cheat on her as she would never cheat on him. When she fancies the eye of a notorious young playboy (Steven Cambell Moore), he will stop at nothing to have her including fanning the flames of gossip that Lady Windermere’s husband is having an affair with Mrs. Erlynne.
The whole film is centered on rumor, gossip and misunderstandings. Director Mike Barker does his best to give the movie a regal affair in spite of that. The costumes are beautiful and the setting is gorgeous. However, his directing often feels flat uninteresting, it keeps A Good Woman from ever moving beyond its base presentation. There is a much better movie in here somewhere, a better director might have been able to get it out.
Somewhat miscast in their roles, Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson both feel out of their depth. Hunt isn’t really able to pull off the temptress role. It’s hard to believe that men would leave their wives or pay her way. Hunt’s performance lacks needed grace or mystique. Instead she feels blunt and clunky. As for Ms. Johansson, her portrayal of Mrs. Windermere is too delicate and fragile. At any moment it looks as if she’ll break. It’s clear that both women were merely added for marquee name value and don’t live up to the moment.
Fortunately the rest of the cast is outstanding. Tom Wilkinson is excellent as Tuppy, the rich bachelor intent on marrying Mrs. Erlynne despite her reputation. Diana Hardcastle and Roger Hammond as rich gossip mongers are fun to watch help fill in the duller moments.
What keeps the movie from becoming a bore is the wonderful translation of Wilde’s work by screenwriter Howard Himelstein. He keeps the best bits of Wilde in and makes the hundred-year-old dialogue seem fresh and new. There are better adaptations of Wilde’s work available such as The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett, but this adaptation of is enjoyable if not memorable. The use of Helen Hunt in a period piece was mistake, but it’s not a movie killer. A good woman is hard to find and in this case you could do worse.