Some people like to skydive or rock climb for adventure. I must admit, at this stage in my life, adventure (for me) is jumping into a movie that I know absolutely nothing about and hoping for the best. Daring, huh? Such is the case with the vaguely titled "A Good Woman." I knew it starred Helen Hunt, Tom Wilkinson and Scarlett Johannson--and that was enough to lead me on the "adventure" of discovering this film. Imagine my surprise, then, (about a third of the way through) when a character named Windermere was purchasing a fan for his wife--and I suddenly realized I was watching a strange modernization of Oscar Wilde's classic play aptly entitled "Lady Windermere's Fan." I felt pretty foolish, I must admit--but I don't entirely blame myself.
Instead of the claustrophobic drawing rooms in 1890's England, "A Good Woman" is fashioned in Italy of the 1930's (an odd choice considering the political climate at the time--which is conveniently never mentioned). The Windermere's are now Americans. And what was once Wilde's comedy of manners has become a rather stilted drama with occasional one-liners that fans of Wilde's works will recognize. I certainly have no problem with re-imagining a classic work, such as this. But "A Good Woman" keeps the storyline of "Lady Windermere's Fan" while jettisoning the elements that make it an effective social commentary. The intimate settings of the play establish a world where gossip is an essential part of daily life, the wicked interactions are all anyone have to occupy their time. By opening things up to the Italian countryside, this seems to be less relevant. It's as if the primary characters are engaged in a different movie from the supporting players who make mockery of them.
"A Good Woman" tells the story of Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt), a seductress that has made a career of manipulating the egos of wealthy men. After being chased from American society, she settles in Italy where her path crosses with a young aristocrat named Windermere and his bride (Johannson). Windermere's relationship with Mrs. Erlynne sets the tongues wagging. It's best not to reveal too much of the plot for those unfamiliar with the play--but again, the film's screenplay loses much of Wilde's language, flow, and intricate comedy. Only the talented and British supporting players, led by the sublime Wilkinson, seem to be trying to maintain Wilde's spirit.
Still, this is a handsome production. But no amount of lush scenery and exquisite costuming can hide the film's truly fatal flaw. No offense to Helen Hunt, or her fans, but her interpretation of Mrs. Erlynne leaves much to be desired. With a stilted cadence to her speech and a pinched expression, Hunt never convinces us that she could be the irresistible creation that she needs to be. Johannson is somewhat vacant in her role, as well, but that is better disguised by her character's naiveté. It is Wilkinson, in particular, that completely saves this production. With much needed humor and charm, "A Good Woman" is inexplicably salvaged by a man! While this isn't terrible by any stretch, it's unlikely to send new viewers to seek out the works of Oscar Wilde--and that's a real disappointment. KGHarris, 03/07.
Is there such a thing as a bad movie made in Italy? Probably, but at least the scenery's usually good. I can't imagine A Good Woman working in a setting like New York or London, but I don't have to. It's set in 1930's Amalfi, the perfect background for a story like this one. Professional mistress Mrs. Erlynne flees to Italy when too many wives are on to her at home. On the ship, she notices a newspaper photo of a young couple, and she knows exactly what her next move should be. The young wife is innocent and naive, and all sorts of innuendo and gossip go flying around Amalfi that season.
This is a woman's picture, and Helen Hunt as the adventuress has never looked more beautiful. Her voice, unfortunately, is rather too clipped and less sultry than it need to be, but in the end, she pulls of her role. Scarlett Johanssen is well-suited to her character, and both women turn out to be more than they seem at the end. Beautiful wardrobe, very subtle music, and a fine performance by Tom Wilkinson, as a jaded, expat Brit who has learned a little something about reality and happiness, add to the success of this production.
I'm now off to read the Oscar Wilde original.
on December 31, 2005
The film is titled `A Good Woman,' but it is actually filmed version of Oscar Wilde play `Lady Windermere's Fan.' Wilde's original, which was put on stage in 1892 and became the first `hit' for Wilde, was set in the drawing room of end-of-the-century England, but `A Good Woman' shifted the background to the Amalfi coast (South Italy) in the 1930s. The director is Mike Barker from England (`To Kill a King'), but some of the main characters' roles are played by American actors.
Two women play the central roles in `A Good Woman.' One is Mrs. Erlynne, `a woman of experience' (Helen Hunt, cast against type) a seductive middle-aged woman from New York. Shunned by the aristocratic society, she still hopes to win the love of gentleman - a rich gentleman - and here in Italy, it seems, she has already attracted some of them. One of them is `Tuppy' (delightful Tom Wilkinson), who refuses to listen to the rumor about Erlynne.
The other woman is Lady Windermere, `a woman of innocence' (Scarlett Johansson), who is newly married, and devotes herself to her husband. After arriving at this beautiful Italian resort, however, her husband Lord Windermere (Mark Umbers) seems to have got nervous about something, some secret he knows, which lady's man Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore) also happen to notice in his checkbook.
The film retains the basic storyline of Wilde's original. There is a twist (as in the original) which might or might not surprise you. All in all the filmed version is successful in maintaining our interest in the story, which gets melodramatic especially in the second half. The changed location is not a bad thing to me (the `stagy' films are not my cup of tea), but the changed times are a different matter. The 1930s is, I m afraid, too modern a period to make the rigid social conventions of late Victorian convincing. The first part of the film is, I think, considerably weakened by the changed situation and lengthy introduction.
Here is another complaint. As the film's title suggests, `A Good Woman' is more about the ladies than about the gentlemen. That is good. Consequently, however, unlike the original play two male roles Lord Darlington and Lord Windermere look less impressive than the ones you meet in the book. This is a problem because many of the witty lines of Wilde are uttered by Lord Darlington and his character as a flirt plays an important role in the second half of the play. He should be more attractive, hopefully devilishly charming.
You may object to the casting of Ms. Hunt and Ms. Johansson. I find Helen Hunt's lady Windermere sexually seductive enough, but not really seductive enough to make her look like a social climber. Not that her acting is bad, but you may name a name or two of someone who could play the same role as good as, or perhaps better than, Helen Hunt.
`A Good Woman' is easy on the eye with two beautiful leading ladies in gorgeous costumes, and fun to see with intelligent dialogues (and it is Oscar Wilde, the genius, so why not witty after all?) The original play's social satire is no longer compelling, now. But `A Good Woman' is light-hearted, maybe too light-hearted you might say, but is still sweet and pleasant.
When it comes to playwrights who can manipulate the English language with a flair, endless double entendres, and clever dialogue, few can match Oscar Wilde. In this wholly entertaining and luxurious adaptation of his fine play 'Lady Windemere's Fan' screen writer Howard Himelstein and director Mike Barker have created a bright confection of film that is bubbling with sex, scandal, seduction, secrets, and all manner of romantic subterfuge. It is a winner all around.
Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) is a lady of desires who has just fled the USA with debtors breathing down her voluptuous décolletage: she has always made her way by courting and conquering married men and their bank accounts. She flees to Amalfi where she encounters the Windemeres - dashing Robert (Mark Umbers) and his gorgeous but somewhat naive wife of one year Meg (Scarlett Johansson). Mrs. Erlynne and Robert share a secret that is mistaken by all to be an affair: Meg the pure is simultaneously being seduced by Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore). The townsfolk of Amalfi gossip and spy and plan at every occasion to bring light to the goings on of the naughty Mrs. Erlynne - with the exception of a twice divorced older gent Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) who instead has his eye on Mrs. Erlynne as his perfect new mate. The trail of cookie crumbs is left when Mrs. Erlynne advises Robert to buy his wife a fan - with all the history of seductive uses that holds. That fan travels around the circles and is eventually the means by which the secrets are made clear and the misrepresented scandals are solved.
The setting of Wilde's comedy has been updated very successfully to the 1930s and the costumes and extraordinary views of the insides and vistas of Amalfi are a fine marriage. The actors are to the person excellent with Helen Hunt giving a fine portrayal of a character at first difficult to like (but she is a good woman!). Scarlett Johansson once again proves that her dramatic skills are equal to her beauty and Tom Wilkinson, Milena Vukotic, and the entire cast toss Wilde's wonderful lines into the air like butterflies. This is a very special film, one that touches the brain, the heart and the sense of humor in a most delectable manner. One wonders why on earth the critics panned it during the theatrical release. I'm sure Wilde would have a fitting answer for that! Highly recommended. Grady Harp, June 06
on May 12, 2010
I resisted watching this movie because it was described as Helen Hunt is a courtesan ... and Helen Hunt is not my idea of a ruthless purveyor of her own flesh. Well, it turns out that dissonance is essential to the story. The script has been adapted to suit the two American actresses and Oscar Wilde's aphorism are made to drop gracefully as if naturally from the English actors' mouths. The clothes and the sets are gorgeous and perfect eye candy for fans of English-made period costume films. Scarlett Johannson has never looked so simultaneously delicately-molded and small boned while still voluptuous as she does in this movie. And despite the period pancake style of maquillage, Helen Hunt's style and behavior make it perfectly believable that she has the power to attract men and to incur the jealousy and wariness of women.
on March 7, 2010
A beautiful period piece richly packed with authentic costumes from the 1930's, beautiful locations, and great acting.
The title "A Good Woman" comes from a line in Oscar Wilde's play entitled "Lady Windemere's Fan" and it is true to Wilde's play with very small additons or changes that leave the original plot intact. For instance, Wilde's play takes place in the later part of the 19th century while "A Good Woman" takes place in the 1930's. But it is a timeless play and could even have been remade in today's time period.
Helen Hunt plays the part of a scandulous woman who has "been around the block" and who has run out of wealthy married men to sustain her lifestyle in America. Her acting is very well done as is that of all the other characters. Helen's character, sells what jewelry she has left, buys a new trouseau and heads to the Italian coast to mingle with the wealthy there in the hope of upgrading her situation. Those she comes in involved with, make for an intriguing story.
After seeing it on TCM, when it was in progress, I knew that I had to have it. I am very happy that I purchased it and, if you are one who likes period pieces, with great costumes, beautiful color, actual Italian seaside locations and scenery, you will very much ejoy this dvd and its story.
The resolution, sound and color, are superior. I highly recommend its purchase. I recieved it carefully packaged, and within a short time after ordering it.
on May 22, 2010
I just finished reading the Oscar Wilde play, after seeing the movie. I must disagree with the reviewers who feel that Helen Hunt was wrong for the part, and that this is NOT a good movie. In the book, her only discretion was having a child at the expense of her Upper Class lover, and then being categorized as a second class woman by High Society. What she did, in not revealing the secret of the play is VERY effective. It brings a tear to the eye. Don't try to turn her into a prostitute crashing into the Upper Class. This play was not the romp of "Earnest". In my opinion, Wilde closely identified with the character because of his "notorious" homosexual relationship with Lord Douglas. Is it his best play? NO. Is the movie good, in 2010? YES! It actually has more "Wildean": quips than the drawing room saga he wrote. The costumes are gorgeous, as is the cast, and Wilde was obsessed with detailing the exact fashions, even fabrics the characters in his plays wear.
on May 8, 2014
I really enjoyed the scenery, costumes and storyline in 'A Good Woman'. Helen Hunt was miscast for her part, she certainly didn't have the looks or charm to supposedly be such a seductress to so many willing men. And Scarlett Johansson, although a beautiful woman, was made to look very washed out and her only expression seemed to be to purse and pout her lips- neither actress in my opinion did justice to their roles. A watchable movie, but could have been better.
I really went back and forth with this film. In the end, though, I just couldn't get past the fact that even a good script based on the work of a literary genius like Oscar Wilde just can't overcome the deleterious effects of problematic acting. I can't bring myself to say bad acting because I think Scarlett Johansson is a very good actress and - while I don't really care for her - Helen Hunt is as well. Neither was very good in One Good Woman, however. The blame must really fall on the director and casting director, though, as neither actress really belonged in this film. Helen Hunt may well have tried too hard to fill the role of the adventuress, man-chasing Mrs. Erlynne, resulting in a slow and careful (sometimes stultifying) delivery of dialogue that gives rise to no feeling or charisma whatsoever. With very little charm at her disposal, it becomes difficult to believe that so many men fall so easily under her spell. As for Johansson, she seems totally out of her element here, clearly uncomfortable throughout many a scene. Fortunately, Tom Wilkinson and the fellows I affectionately call "the old geezers" come bearing the quick wit and natural bearing called for in this type of satirical treatment. That allows the script to shine in places, thereby saving the whole project from disaster.
Clearly, this film takes many a liberty with Oscar Wilde's classic drama Lady Windermere's Fan, yet it still wields quite an impressive sword of satirical wit here and there in the script. The story is basically an attack on the hypocrisies of gossip vis-à-vis high society, something Wilde knew quite a bit about. Lady Meg Windermere (Scarlett Johansson) is a young newlywed living in idyllic bliss with her husband Robert. Wealthy, attractive, and well-to-do, she thinks she has the perfect marriage to a man she trusts implicitly. Then Mrs. Erlynne shows up, having left New York rather hastily, courtesy of several wives anxious to see her depart from their husbands' lives. Mrs. Erlynne has always relied (and indeed prospered mightily) on the kindness of strange men, earning her quite a reputation in 1930s America and, rather quickly, Italy. She and Robert Windermere are soon the hot topic of local gossip, with nosy well-to-do women tracking their private meetings and going quite apoplectic about it to one another. When word finally filters down to her, Meg is quite stunned and contemplates some rather rash action of her own. Meanwhile, dear old Tuppy (Wilkinson), a man with his own share of past social indelicacies, quite falls for Mrs. Erlynne and proposes marriage - to the chagrin of all his marriage-hating buddies. These are the lovable "old geezers" I was talking about, and they constantly delight the viewer with short, stinging, and remarkably witty complaints about the institution of marriage.
I won't attempt to chronicle the shifting layers of this film, for the plot takes a number of delicious turns along the way. The plot's solid, as is the writing. Indeed, I would sometimes find myself pulled into the story rather engagingly, but the magic always departed once Hunt and/or Johansson turned up for a more serious scene. That proves to be too much for this film to overcome. Yes, it's always a treat to reexplore Victorian sensibilities (even if they're arbitrarily shifted to 1930s Italy), but A Good Woman never exhibits the first sign of life or energy, plodding its way through a story that could have and should have been much more enjoyable.
on May 8, 2012
This could have been a wonderful movie to watch over and over again. I loved the setting, the costumes, the atmosphere, and the script was fine as a stand alone as long as one didn't try to make an Oscar Wilde piece out of it. I watched it twice to enjoy the scenery and costumes, but it was painful watching Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson since they are so very badly miscast. Helen Hunt looked lovely, but had no depth, no charm, no seductiveness and it was difficult imagining her being sought after, especially by the brilliant Tom Wilkinson. Scarlette Johansson was mistaking looking vacuous with looking naive and was also too voluptious to play a young socialite of the period. I had to try to imagine Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs. Erlynne and perhaps Kate Bosworth as Mrs. Windemere and could then appreciate everything else that went into the making of this movie. What astounds me is why no one noticed during filming that the two actresses were so wrong for the parts? Tom Wilkinson saved the day and the movie, but, though he made a good effort to charm Mrs. Erlynne, I could see no spark between them certainly not from her side. What a waste of what could have been a lovely movie.