A Good Woman
2005, PG, 93 min. Directed by Mike Barker. Starring Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Mark Umbers, Milena Vukotic, Tom Wilkinson.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Feb. 3, 2006
British TV veteran Barker and his screenwriter (novice Howard Himmelstein) set Oscar Wilde (Lady Windermere's Fan) among Jazz Age expatriates cold-chillin' on the Italian coast, and the result is not quite as dishy as one might hope, 1930s fashions and Mediterranean countryside notwithstanding. The hats are quite lovely, and Vukotic is a hoot as a decadent contessa with seven or eight yapping lapdogs, but as a tale of Beautiful People struggling to overcome social convention (either by searching for true love or by cynically rejecting it, for each policy has its pitfalls) and live authentically, it doesn't really sparkle. Hunt is an offbeat choice for Mrs. Erlynne, the aging New York man-stealer with revealing fashions and a deep, dark secret, but that's not quite the only problem here. Mrs. Erlynne follows innocent socialite Meg Windermere (Johansson) and her new husband (Umbers) to Amalfi and ingratiates herself into Lord Windemere's checkbook, ostensibly as his mistress. She raises eyebrows all over town but catches the eye of twice-divorced Tuppy (Wilkinson), who's richer than God and just as generous. Meanwhile, a notorious cad (Moore) tries to stain Meg's virtue. Watching these people seduce each other should be fun, but the movie is regrettably bland. Barker seems to be banking on Johansson's turn as an ingénue in Girl With a Pearl Earring (which also starred Wilkinson), but here she seems too earthy to be shocked by improper advances in a glove shop. There's not enough work put into the performance or its direction, yet she's asked to anchor the whole film. Her lovers, Moore and Umbers, are both TV studmuffins from the UK, and they resemble each other physically, which might have sounded good on paper, but onscreen they seem too generic: handsome, rich playboys with situational ethics from Central Casting. The supporting cast senses a vacuum and runs away with the movie (particularly Roger Hammond and John Standing as grouchy, gossipy old coots who observe all the goings-on and disapprove most firmly while looking down Mrs. Erlynne's scandalous backless evening gown). Wilkinson is worth noting as the movie's moral compass — a kindly, honest New Man who meets his match in Mrs. Erlynne and forgives her trespasses. He's got an air of sincerity but also evinces the kind of loopy, what-the-hell spirit every eccentric millionaire should possess. Hunt is no more out of her depth than are the other principals, so it would be cruel to pinpoint her, but the question remains: Is TV's beloved Jamie Buchman a world-weary seductress? With its jellyfish direction, A Good Woman throws its actors overboard to see if they can swim.