Helen Hunt unleashes her Wilde side

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

As the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of movies starring Scarlett Johansson, we have "A Good Woman," a refashioning of Oscar Wilde's classic play "Lady Windermere's Fan."

Whereas Wilde's play took place in an 1890 London drawing room in one day, the movie, directed by Mike Barker and written by Howard Himelstein, is set in the 1930s on the Amalfi Coast.

This "opening up" of the play is a mixed success. On the one hand, it's great to see all those sparkling Riviera vistas. But Wilde's drama thrives in confinement; the spaciousness of this production has the odd effect of making the drama stagier than it might seem on stage.

Recommended: Default

Helen Hunt plays Mrs. Erlynne, the "woman of ill repute" who leaves New York under a cloud to join the vacationing aristocrats and nab fresh prey. Her victim, Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers), is married to Meg (Johansson), who is herself being wooed by Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore). Everyone seems to be well aware of Mrs. Erlynne's reputation, but she is not the only one with a past. In fact, having a past is mandatory in this crowd if one is to be deemed interesting.

Smitten right away is Lord Augustus (Tom Wilkinson), who doesn't begrudge Mrs. Erlynne for her designs on a married man. The most heartfelt moments in the movie are his tentative attempts at courtship: He knows she can only be interested in his money, but persists in loving her anyway in the hopes that she will admire his decency.

Wilkinson artfully deepens a character who in Wilde's original play was rather boobish. It's a marvelous performance in a pretty good film. Grade: B

Rated PG for thematic material, sensuality, and language.

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