Sunday, March 28, 2010

Underrated Movie #55: Bright Young Things

Title: Bright Young Things
Year: 2003
Director: Steven Fry
Writer: Steven Fry, based on the novel “Vile Bodies” by Evelyn Waugh
Stars: Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, James McAvoy, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow, Peter O’Toole

The Story: A young novelist lacks the money to marry his posh sweetheart, so he becomes an anonymous gossip columnist, casting his withering eye on a frivolous world of partying aristocrats.

How it Came to be Underrated: Given that the movie is so unabashedly wed to the time, place and tone of Waugh’s novel, it seems rather strange that they changed the name, which couldn’t have helped with the marketing. And the name change caused people to confuse it with a very different London-set-movie from the same year, Dirty Pretty Things.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Waugh always presented himself as a Catholic moralist, supposedly on the side of the disapproving status quo against the dissolute gadabouts he portrayed, but it was never very convincing. He seemed to enjoy the revelry too much. Oh, his disgust was real enough, but the source of it was his own internal conflict, his irrepressible urge to subvert and debauch the aristocratic world that he’d been raised to revere.
  2. Fry strikes a tricky tone that veers between broad satire and quiet understatement. It’s frothy but ghastly, a world of liberation and shame, envy and desperation, yellow suede shoes and cocaine-fueled madness. But, because it’s Fry, he never fails to find a vein of humor. Emily Mortimer is particularly great at finding the comedy, even in tragic moments. I still hope that she’ll become a bigger star.
  3. Fascism and economic ruin are always lurking around the edges, but Fry finds in Waugh’s story a uncanny presentiment that, against all odds, the moral poison that would actually come to define the coming world was the tyranny of the pleasure principle.
  4. When I saw this movie, it seemed not at all surprising to see these people frivolously partying away the 1930s only to get brought down to earth by the coming of ‘the war.’ Only afterwards did I realize something peculiar—the book was actually written in the early ‘30s. How did Waugh know for sure the war was coming? When I read the book, I discovered that Waugh had just supposed a near-future war. In fact, the soldiers described in the book are using ray guns!

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: This is great, but the ultimate Waugh adaptation will always be the epic 1981 miniseries of Brideshead Revisited.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and on Watch Instantly.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Exciting Hootenannies!

1 comment:

christinembird said...

Waugh saw WWII coming the same way Kafka saw the Holocaust coming, Fitzgerald saw the Crash coming, Tolstoy saw the Russian Revolution coming, and Chaucer and Dante saw the Reformation coming.

A good writer, being a careful observer, is going to be good at observing the direction things are headed in.