TORONTO -- The bon mots fly fast and furious in A Good Woman
, which transplants Oscar Wilde
's Lady Windermere's Fan
to a new place and time.
But while screenwriter Howard Himelstein
and director Mike Barker have done a workable job of drawing the Wilde social satire out of the drawing room, the film never quite manages to travel at the same buoyant velocity as the acerbic wit.
The tone trouble and problematic casting (more about that later) prevent the adaptation from being considered truly Oscar-worthy -- that's referring both to the statuette and Mr. Wilde -- though the delicious dialogue and opulent backdrops still make for a reasonably pleasant viewing experience.
Reverting to Wilde's original title for his play, A Good Woman
has been moved up to the 1930s and relocated to the decidedly airier Amalfi coast in Italy.
Several of the characters, meanwhile, now have become Americans.
That would include Robert (Mark Umbers
) and Meg (Scarlett Johansson
) Windermere, a young newlywed couple in good standing who have left New York's sticky summer behind for some sensible vacationing on the Italian Riviera.
Having the same idea is Mrs. Stella Erlynne (Helen Hunt), a woman of a certain age with a certain reputation to match, who has seemingly exhausted her supply of the wealthy, married New York men who served as her meal ticket.
It doesn't take long before the penniless vamp appears to have landed Robert as her latest conquest, and their frequent sightings together have set the tongues of the sunbathing aristocracy a-flapping.
Meg's discovery that Robert has been issuing a number of checks to Mrs. Erlynne would seem to confirm those rampant rumors, and she receives little solace in the enamored attention paid to her by eligible Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore).
Of course, things, as it turns out, aren't quite as they appear.
Director Barker (1999's Best Laid Plans
), along with cinematographer Ben Seresin
, production designer Ben Scott and costume designer John Bloomfield
, get the look and feel of the picture up to Merchant Ivory snuff, but there's a prevailing wistfulness hanging over the entire enterprise that has the effect of signaling that weightier third-act twist earlier than necessary.
As for the cast, while Johansson seems to have a natural affinity for period dress, Hunt fares less successfully in the role of the calculating seductress.
She effectively conveys Mrs. Erlynne's vulnerability and pain later on, but Hunt never seems entirely comfortable in her character's skin when she's required to play the shameless vamp with a knack for insinuating herself into the beds and checkbook registers of men who should know better.
As her quite willing next victim, the very wealthy but lonely Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) nails the required tragicomic pitch with a great deal of self-effacing charm.
A Good Woman
Director: Mike Barker
Screenwriter: Howard Himelstein
Based on the play Lady Windermere's Fan
by: Oscar Wilde
Producers: Alan Greenspan, Jonathan English
, Steven Siebert, Howard Himelstein
Executive producers: John Evangelides
, Mikael Borglund
, Hilary Davis
, Jimmy De Brabant, Michael Dounaev
, Liam Badger
, Duncan Hopper
, Rupert Preston
Director of photography: Ben Seresin
Production designer: Ben Scott
Editor: Neil Farrell
Costume designer: John Bloomfield
Music: Richard G. Mitchell
Mrs. Erlynne: Helen Hunt
Meg Windermere: Scarlett Johansson
Tuppy: Tom Wilkinson
Lord Darlington: Stephen Campbell Moore
Robert Windermere: Mark Umbers
Contessa Lucchino: Milena Vukotic
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 93 minutes