There’s only one thing worse than being a period piece, and that’s being an out-of-period piece. No, that’s not entirely true, but after 93 minutes of Wildean epigrams — both genuine and ersatz — I seem to have become inflicted with arch-speak, or at least more so than usual.
Taking Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play, Lady Windemere’s Fan, updating it to 1930 and calling it A Good Woman (the film was released in 2004) probably seemed like a good idea to director Mark Barker, screenwriter Howard Himelstein and the 22 (yes, 22) credited producers, executive producers and associate producers. The problem is that there seems no good reason for the update. Nothing is gained by the change in period. The only result is to make Wilde’s very formal dialogue sound more old-fashioned than it is — and blunt Wilde’s original purpose of laying bare Victorian hypocrisy in the guise of witty fun.
The casting of Helen Hunt as Mrs. Erlynne is no bonus, either, since she’s impossibly grating, though Scarlett Johansson may be a bigger drawback as she plays Lady Windemere in a kind of mouth-breather moronic manner that is apparently meant to suggest innocence. What saves the film are the supporting performances (Tom Wilkinson is terrific) and the fact that even Hunt’s nasal intonations can’t quite kill Wilde’s lines. It’s watchable and handsome to look at, but it has an airless quality that makes it feel like a really classy — if misguided — TV production rather than a movie.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke