Saturday, July 6, 2013

Movie Review: An Ideal Husband (2011)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Witty play turned into a fun movie with a great cast
Cons: Some very stupid scene breaks early in the film
The Bottom Line
Good adaptation
Wonderfully talented cast
Be prepared to laugh

"Even You Are Not Rich Enough to Buy Back Your Past. No Man Is."

The other night, some friends and I were trying to decide what movie to watch.  While it wasn't my first choice, we wound up watching An Ideal Husband.  Since I love Oscar Wilde's plays, I figured I'd enjoy it.  And I was right.

It's London season for the upper society in the 1890's, and for Lord Arthur Goring (Rupert Goring), life is grand.  He spends his time avoiding the trap of marriage set by the eligible women and his father's constant nagging about getting married.  His best friends are Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Jeremy Northam and Cate Blanchett).  They are a very happily married couple.  Arthur is even on friendly terms with Robert's younger sister Mabel (Minnie Driver).

But all that changes when Gertrude's school chum Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore) arrives on the scene.  She insists on meeting Robert, and it turns out that is because she wants him to back something in Parliament - something that will bring her a great fortune but will cost the country much.  And she is using blackmail to get her way.  Will Robert give in?  How will this secret affect his marriage?  And how might the fallout affect Arthur and Mabel?

This is based on one of Wilde's plays, and if you are familiar with his comedies at all, then you know you are in for a wild, hilarious ride.  You never want to miss a line because it either advances the story or sets up the next joke - sometimes both.  Trust me, the laughs are plentiful.  Honestly, he could give some sitcom writers a few lessons on how to write comedy.

Unlike some of Wilde's plays, the stakes in this story feel real.  Yes, he's still poking fun at the society of his day (which is funny today), but he puts his characters through some real struggles along the way.  I wasn't sure how he would resolve things, but he did so brilliantly.  What I thought was the climax came early, but I still found the rest of the movie entertaining.

And for fans of Wilde's best known play, The Importance of Being Ernest, there are a couple of very nice nods to the play here.

The cast is wonderful at bringing the characters and the world of the story to life.  I thought the performances were all perfect, and the subtlety in one scene was absolutely hysterical.

But I do have an issue with this movie - one that would probably be bigger if I had seen the play first.  I get that they don't want to take a play and film it for two hours on two or three sets, so they break something into smaller scenes to help keep the movie audience from being bored.  However, quite often in the first act, they start a conversation in one setting and continue it in another.  It's obviously the same scene continued, but too much time has passed for them to be picking up where they left off.  That drives me completely up a wall.  As the movie progresses, they do a better job of keeping scenes in one location and making scene changes fit with the progress of the plot.  It's not as bad as they've butchered other Wilde plays (some of them are unwatchable as a result), but maybe if I saw the play I'd think that about this movie.

But since this was my introduction to the story, I really did enjoy An Ideal Husband.  This is a comedy of manners that anyone who loves to laugh will enjoy.

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