The Importance of Being Earnest

Bomb Rating: 

The British make me sick. They make two kinds of films.

The British make me sick. They make two kinds of films.

1. A bunch of repressed people gather around and try to emote with the desperation of somebody trying to pass a kidney stone.
2. A bunch of smarmy people gather around and use humor to disguise the fact that they have no actual feelings, and even if they did they'd be unable to express them in a way any of us could readily identify as "human." This type of film is generally called a "comedy of manners."

The only reason we know how a character feels in "The Importance of Being Earnest" is because he makes some unnecessarily long and garrulous statement about it. The two smarmy Brits at the core of this story are John "Jack" Worthing (Colin Firth) and Algernon Moncrief (Rupert Everett). Because they're so full of themselves, it's impossible tell whether they're serious or hurt or depressed or whatever. The two of them might as well be space aliens. They play this little game of pretend. Jack pretends he has a brother, Ernest. When he's in the country, he's Jack. When he's in town, he's Ernest. Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) falls in love with Ernest. Algie, wanting to figure out what Jack does in the country, goes to Jack's estate and pretends to be Ernest, which gets him in with Jack's ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon), who has an arranged marriage with the mysterious Ernest.

None of these characters seems to care about anything. In place of actual human emotion, we're given clever word play. While it's possible for me to be amused by how intellectually industrious Jack and Algie are, it's impossible to care whether they succeed in life or, more deservedly, get kicked in the head by a horse. They're about as complex as a couple of finger puppets.

Judi Dench plays Lady Bracknell, Algie's aunt. This is one of those situations where Lady Bracknell is supposed to be the smartest character in the movie, yet she has no idea that her nephew has no income. It's also evident that we're supposed to marvel at Dench's performance as though she were the queen of the cinema. I find this hard, since she appears to have the personality range of a roasted pig. She does that one serious face and spews British gibberish like waste from an industrial plant. One of these days the British will draw deep from the remnants of their lost empire to combine emotion, humor and drama in the same film. Then we'll all know for certain that we've finally made it to the 21st century.

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