Movie Reviews
4:45 pm
Wed March 29, 2006

A Good Woman

A smart adaptation

"Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!"

From Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol

A Good Woman, a smart adaptation of Oscar Wilde's celebrated play, Lady Windermere's Fan, carries hardly the heft of Wilde's lamentation about love while he was incarcerated for homosexuality at the end of the Victorian era. But Fan is about love, and it does carry witty Wilde sayings that make the film worth seeing, despite the contrived, predictable plot.

That plot involves infidelity and misidentification, two staples of Wildean drama, which often exists for the lines themselves. Beyond Wilde's indelicate warning that to enjoy sausages or women, you should not watch the preparation of either, come some of his most memorable thoughts:

"My own business bores me. I much prefer other people's."

"The best way to keep my word is never to give it."

And most appropriate for this drama: "Modern marriage thrives on mutual deception."

Director Mike Barker and writer Howard Himmelstein have smoothly changed the location from a Victorian drawing room to the 1930's island of Amalfi, an escape for the indolent British wealthy and opportunists like Helen Hunt's Mrs. Erlynne, who decides to steal the heart of Lord Windermere (Mark Umbers) from his wife, Meg (Scarlett Johansson). Along the way Lord Augustus (the durable Tom Wilkinson) sets his eye on Erlynne, in a turn of honesty in which he acknowledges his own lack of worth and great wealth and her life as a series of wealthy-man entrapments.

Except for Johansson, who seems uncomfortable and thereby miscast, the actors are fit for their roles, or more properly, for declaring Wilde's witticisms.

Mayfair at the height of Wilde's fame must have been the best place in the world, if only to catch a glimpse of the genius coming out of his favorite tobacconist's or loudly cutting up a fool on the street. His fight with the Marquis of Queensbury landed him in jail and hastened his death. I wish he would have been treated better, but those lines live with gusto, even in an uneven film such as Good Woman.