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The Importance Of Being Earnest

review by Zach B

 

 

Rating: PG (For Mild Sensuality)

Running Time: 94 minutes

Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Whiterspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey, Edward Fox

Screenplay by: Oliver Parker
Based on the play by: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Oliver Parker

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Oliver Parker, The Making Of The Importance Of Being Earnest, Behind-The-Scenes-Featurette, Sneak Peeks

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (13 Scenes)

Released: November 12th, 2002

 

 

Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, "The Importance Of Being Earnest" is a rather delightful comedy dealing with mistaken identity. The story takes place in England during the 1890s, where two old friends by the names of Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) and Algy (Rupert Everett) both use the name of Ernest for their own reasons - mainly to escape themselves when needed. Jack soon falls for Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) while in the country Algy falls for one of Worthing's acquaintances by the name of Cecily - also using the name Ernest. Naturally, classic screwball comedy ensues and the truth must come out sooner or later.

"The Importance Of Being Earnest" has been made into a film before (a few times over actually, not to mention the countless television versions), but I suppose most classic stories deserve some kind of an update now and then, even if past film versions are suitable (or maybe not, it probably depends on the material, what "new" a director can bring to the story and how well executed it was done the first time). Oliver Parker has now done three films based on classic stories from famous writers: 1995's "Othello," 1999's critical darling "An Ideal Husband" (also by Oscar Wilde) and now "The Importance Of Being Earnest."

I guess I'm really not the one to make comparisons. I've heard about the story before, but I haven't seen any other version of the story in some visual form and I have not even read the play. I do like screwball comedies and have enjoyed some of Oscar Wilde's work, so while I can't exactly truly comment on Oliver Parker's adaptation, I thought the story itself was pretty even with a good deal of scenes involving the main characters so we got to know them all just enough. The dialogue is quite sharp, the comedy is pretty splendid (though it's definitely not for everybody) and a lot of the atmosphere that is created is just rather zany, if not fun. While I found myself entertained, I'm sure some people won't like any of what this film offers and prefer to see something that is more modern. Besides, I guess we've all seen some film before about mistaken identities, being honest, love, telling the truth and more all rolled into one.

Parker's directing has also improved. "Othello" showed promise and while I found "An Ideal Husband" to be quite nice, "The Importance Of Being Earnest" is probably Parker's best effort yet. He paces the film in a very nice manner, but the engrossing shots, focusing and how he presents the film is quite stylish (the 2.35:1 aspect ratio works very well). Due to his efforts and how pretty most of his shots look, I found myself being enraptured more than I thought. The film's editing is quite nice, and Charlie Mole's score is simply divine.

What probably makes this version better than one might anticipate though is the wonderful cast, who I'm sure are going to get snubbed at the major award ceremonies. (I doubt they'll be nominated even. I hope, but this film came out in May and failed to hold any buzz.) Tom Wilkinson does nicely in his pretty small role, but it seems everyone else are scene-stealers. Rupert Everett (who also had a lead role in Parker's "An Ideal Husband") captures the sweet charms and manipulation of Algy, while Colin Firth is excellent and suitable as Worthing (love the nervous attitude as he is put through the trials and tribulations to win the heart of Gwendolen). Frances O'Connor does wonders as Gwendolen, portraying a sweet character who is also incredibly sexy and tempting with quite a bit of bluster all at once. Dame Judi Dench makes one fine Lady Bracknell with her forceful attitude that never diminishes her wicked grimace, while American Reese Whiterspoon proves once again how versatile and likable of an actress she is with her role as Cecily. Is Reese the next Gwyneth Paltrow? You'd think she was actually British with the accent she pulls off in this one. She's truly quite the charmer.

I really don't know what critics didn't like about this adaptation. It's fun, it's breezy (especially at a good hour and a half) and I found it to be a pretty delightful hour and a half. It has a good script, it has a good director and it certainly has a brilliant cast. I found it hard to resist the movie since everything is so well done and enjoyable. If you like your comedy classic and everything British, then this version of "The Importance Of Being Earnest" is certainly worth looking into.

 

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Importance Of Being Earnest" looks quite nice. The transfer is pretty sharp overall, but at times, pretty uneven. Contrast seems to be a bit over done in a few scenes, while other scenes look a bit faded and muted out. The transfer's main problems though are through its prints: dirt pieces, scratches and a load of blemishes make it quite distracting. The transfer also has some very slight edge enhancment, but runs through with too much noise, too much shimmering and an absurd amount of edge halos. On the more positive side though, detail is great (check out those scenes in the countryside) while fleshtones look on par, plus there is some nice color saturation that is bold and rather vibrant. Despite the little annoyances, this is a strong transfer.

 

The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track (a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track is included too) suits the film very well and is quite pleasing in its ambiance and the lush atmosphere it tends to create. Charlie Mole's whimsical and rich score is presented nicely through the channels, while dialogue is firmly centered that is not only quite crisp, but very easy to hear as well. Given the predicaments the film creates, dialogue is key to the movie and during some more rambunctious scenes, it holds up so everything can be heard in balance. Subwoofer use is decent when used, and the same goes for surround effects (most namely the crowds featured in the first ten minutes or so). In all, the 5.1 mix holds its own and fits the film very well. No complaints here! Also included are English subtitles and English closed captioning.

 

Even though the film didn't get the limited release kind of box office Miramax probably sought out, the DVD gets its dues (just don't expect a packet set of supplements). What's here is quite nice though, and probably the main features is an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Oliver Parker. Despite some pretty major moments of silence throughout (Parker actually doesn't start talking until about a minute and forty-five seconds into the movie, makes no introduction and acts as if he's been saying stuff all along), this is a pretty decent commentary. It's not just the silence: I found most of Parker's comments to be pretty obvious and always quite complimentary (which isn't bad at all, it just takes away from adding any depth to the film). Parker does share stories about casting, what he wanted to do with his version and actually makes some interesting connections, explains some of the themes and the characters. Those very familiar with the story won't get too much out of it, but Parker is pretty interesting once he gets going. I've heard better commentaries, but in the end, I liked what he shared. Not bad for a first time commentary (I think). Though I must admit I only think die-hard fans of the film will want to listen to this one.

The Making Of The Importance Of Being Earnest lasts a little over seven minutes and is presented in full frame. Filled with some on-the-set footage and clips from the film, Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Rupert Everett, Anna Massey, Tom Wilkinson, Reese Whiterspoon and Oliver Parker discuss the film, the appeal of the story and share smiles all around with all the praise you'd expect. Simply put: it's promotional fluff.

I love behind-the-scenes footage, so Behind-The-Scenes was right up my alley. Lasting nearly fifteen minutes and also in full frame, this is basically a nice montage of the shooting of a few scenes. I'm assuming this was left over B-roll footage for the promotional featurette, but it's nice watch all of this footage without interruptions, crazy cuts and background music/voices all over it. Those interested in filmmaking will probably only like this, but it gives a raw glimpse of scenes being shot. It may have been nice if there were some introductions and setups, but it may not be necessary given that you have seen the film itself first. The only downside? The audio has way too much hissing in a few of these scenes.

Finally, we also get quite a few Sneak Peeks. One for the upcoming Roberto Benigni film "Pinocchio," one for the excellent HBO documentary series "Project Greenlight" (it is for the DVD) and the other three for other romantic comedies from Disney: "Mansfield Park," "An Ideal Husband" and "Kate & Leopold."

 

It's too bad that critics didn't like Oliver Parker's version of "The Importance Of Being Earnest" and the film failed to catch on at the box office. The film is quite entertaining and has loads of talent, while the DVD serves up a very nice transfer, a good 5.1 mix and some decent supplements. If you missed it in theaters it's definitely worth a rental, but if you like classic madcap comedy or love the film itself, it makes a nice addition to any collection.