A Good Woman

Directed by Mike Barker

(Lion’s Gate Films, Inc.)

1 1/2 stars

Oscar Wilde once said “Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”

This sentiment seems to hold true for “A Good Woman”, Director Mike Barker’s (“To Kill A King”) adaptation of Wilde’s play “Lady Windemere’s Fan.”

The basic idea for the film sounds rather appealing—aging seductress Lady Erlynne (Helen Hunt, “As Good As It Gets”) makes her way down to the Italian Riviera and disrupts the marital bliss of the genteelly tedious Windemeres. Gossip, spying through binoculars, and mistaken identities ensue.

It’s a big zany ride through 1930s British society, complete with doddering alcoholic Brits for comic relief. Unfortunately, it all ends up being rather ungainly.

This harmless movie won’t provoke any violent reactions, but it is a pitiful tribute to Wilde’s writing.

In a desperately blatant attempt to make this film appealing to American viewers, Barker has moved the story out of Wilde’s Victorian drawing rooms and into 1930s Italy.

Also, the two lead female roles, Lady Erlynne and Meg Windemere (Scarlett Johansson, “Lost in Translation”) have been inexplicably rewritten as Americans.

Barker also took the drastic step of substituting beautiful costumes for solid acting. The cast looks wonderful, but there is little substance.

Additionally, while the Italian Riviera is a wonderful setting, the film’s color scheme is so dreadfully dreary that you begin to fervently believe that there simply must be sinister doings afoot—hardly the ideal setting for frivolity and wit.

Johansson and Hunt give tepid performances, to say the very least. Johansson, playing the stereotypically naïve Midwestern girl, is insufferably proud of herself.

Her American accent jars horrendously with the smooth delivery of the British actors, and she spends so much of the film looking saintly that you wonder if she’s capable of original thought. Ordinarily an impressive actress, here Johansson seems more preoccupied with her clothing than with her acting.

Hunt, on the other hand, has simply been miscast in the role of Lady Erlynne. Playing the quintessential woman with a mysterious past, she seems to have decided to focus on her character’s misery.

While her interpretation of the role is skillful, it is wholly inappropriate for this film. Her seriousness jars with the farcical acting of her co-stars. There is no place for depression in the frivolous romp that the film claims to be.

Additionally, two of the other lead characters, Robert Windemere (Mark Umbers, “The Merchant of Venice”) and the wonderfully named Lord Darlington (Stephen Cambell Moore, “Bright Young Things”), are so instantly forgettable that it is lucky that few of the important plot twists lie in their hands.

The movie does, however, have a few saving graces.

Tom Wilkinson (“Shakespeare in Love”) gives a splendid performance as Tuppy, a charming British aristocrat with no qualms about being loved for his money.

Wilkinson delivers Wilde’s dialogue with ease. In fact, Wilkinson’s performance, along with Wilde’s witticisms, carry the film.

All in all, Barker has made a painstakingly mediocre film. Oscar Wilde, eternal opponent of all things mediocre, is gnashing his teeth in his grave.