Never was a movie so aptly named. There’s a deep bench growing in the UK (and in the US, but this is a British movie, so the rest of you can quiet down). Should I say growing? Has there been a time where the bench was thin? Well, yes. There’s that time between Olivier and O’Toole being young men and the 21st century. An acting corps is only sound if you can go from youth to death without a hitch. Well, we’ve got that now. The old guard can play the old folks can play the old cranks–well, Olivier can’t because he’s been dead for over twenty years–and the young can play the pretty people with hidden depths.
Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore) is a writer that’s probably the only one who is as bright inside his mind as he is to the outside world. He’s in an on-again-off-again engagement with Nina (Emily Mortimer) who finds it all a bit of a bore. They go to parties with their friends Simon (James McAvoy), who is trying to keep his job as a gossip columnist, the vibrantly effeminate Miles (Michael Sheen), the rather dopey Agatha (Fenella Woolgar), and the rather dull Archie (Guy Henry). Their lives are pretty crazy going from party to party and one scandalous event after another. Meanwhile, Adam is trying to accumulate money so that he can marry Nina. He goes from flush to bust with incredible speed and then has to compete for Nina with the very rich Ginger (David Tennant)–just wanted to get his name in there.
Bright Young Things (2003) is very much influenced by his experience with the Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93) series. He keeps the musical selections well within the mainstream and very peppy. It creates that great feeling of semi-fantasy surrounding the idle rich. Good choice.
But the characters and story of Bright Young Things are rather more serious than in Jeeves & Wooster. In this world people really do need to have work or a generous allowance to survive–well, almost. They also struggle with their own vacuousness and the culture that both condemns them and salivates over their every move.
The story here is often quite funny, but also quite dark. Mortimer stands out as one of the strongest performances of the bunch. Her self-awareness matched with her strong desire to do away with all her little “pains” and party on is done to perfection. In fact the entire enterprise is casted with all the bright young actors coming out at the time.
Surprisingly it is only Moore that hasn’t really broken out despite his incredible display of talent. The History Boys (2006) is probably the next best movie he’s been a part of. I don’t quite understand it. That’s not true, I think I do understand it. He was a better actor than McAvoy at the time, but just not quite as good or boyish looking. Such is the world of acting.
Bright Young Things is an adaptation, by Stephen Fry who writes and directs, of the novel Vile Bodies (1930) by Evelyn Waugh. Having seen and loved the must-see Brideshead Revisited (1981), I really have to read one of his books. But why bother when you’ve got Stephen Fry to turn them into movies? Just kidding, Stephen.
Well, half-joking. Fry does a marvelous job with the script. His direction also keeps events going at a brisk pace. The former you can and would expect of Fry, but the latter is a genuine achievement from somebody who’d been on the acting end of the camera his entire career. I think you can credit Fry with extra credit for the ending of the story which is quietly comic while also bravely mainstream.
I say bravely because there is a loud and consistently vapid (ironically) call for the depressing or nihilistic ending (which is as contrived as its enemy). No, this is a better ending because it honors the promise of its two thinking characters rather than ends on the tragedy that was, honestly, more likely. Hey, this is Hollywood…or Pinewood. I don’t know, just how I feel today.
Solid inter-war comedy of the Waugh/Wodehouse/Wilde sort. Hard to dislike one of those. Buy it if you’re that kind of fan and for $4.50, why wouldn’t you be?