The Importance of Being Earnest
Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Frances O'Connor
Director:

Oliver Parker

Writing credits: Oscar Wilde (play), Oliver Parker (screenplay)
Distributor: Miramax * 97 min
Rated: PG
  (USA 2002)

Why I'd Like To Egg Oliver Parker's House

A Rant by Gabriel Shanks

PREAMBLE:

I generally disapprove of critics who pass off 'comparison/contrast essays' as actual reviews. This often happens with new remakes and their source films — I feel it's a critic's primary responsibility to review the film at hand and its own merits. (For example: "The U.S. version of THE VANISHING isn't as good as the original." Pointless, if readers want to
know whether they should see the new one.) Comparing a remake and an original might be interesting from an
academic standpoint, or as a supporting argument — but this is personal taste, and I prefer critical analysis from a populist perspective.

ADAPTATIONS AND REMAKES:

So, how is EARNEST as a film unto itself? My guess is, a viewer could find Oliver Parker's film a moderately entertaining experience. The cast, in particular, is inspired, with Rupert Everett and Judi Dench clearly born to deliver this kind of aristocratic banter. The art direction and costumes ain't bad, either.

BUT.

(You knew one was coming, didn't you?)

This isn't a remake. This is an adaptation of dramatic literature, an attempt to express cinematically a work created in a different artistic form. Unlike remakes, I think adaptations *inherently* have a connection to the original source.

So...as an ADAPTATION of Oscar Wilde's play, Parker should hang his bloated, untalented head in shame.

THE CASE AGAINST OLIVER PARKER:

THE CASE AGAINST OLIVER PARKER:

Why should he hang his head? It's a multiple choice question:

A) Because he chucked 3/4 of Wilde's text, and wrote some of his own...lines that, one can only assume, he
believed to be better than Wilde's original work.

B) Because people who know and love the wit of the original work will recognize the that Parker has egregiously weakened the text and characters dramatically, and lost the essence of Wilde in the process.

C) Because he's not half the writer Wilde was. And in adapting Wilde's play, he eviscerated it.

D) All of the above.

ALERT: SPOILERS FOLLOW THAT, INCIDENTALLY, DOUBLE AS INCREDULITY


Riddle me this, Wilde fans:

1) Lady Bracknell was actually a former burlesque dancer?

2) Gwendolyn gets "Earnest" tattooed on her ass? And makes Jack do the same?

3) Algernon is not a playboy cad, but now seems to be evading the law on a regular basis, merely a common thief?

4) Cecily has medieval bondage fantasies?

I mean, please...you can spew all that crap about updating a text for a modern audience if you want. But I've seen this play performed numerous times, as recently as 1998 (in a magnificent production at Princeton's McCarter Theatre). Trust me, modern audiences respond VERY well to Wilde's original (and far more intricate, not to mention subtle) text.

You want to screw around with a classic, do what Baz Luhrmann did with ROMEO+JULIET -- keep the text, change the setting and time period. Just an example.

What arrogance on Parker's part to think that he can out-Wilde Wilde himself. Wilde is a delicate but powerful cultural critic. Like Noel Coward or (to a lesser extent) Cole Porter, these are artists who appeal to the intellect. To try to make them modern or hip or simply faster (I think there are 14 locales in the first 15 minutes alone) is to miss the point
entirely.

As the amazing 1950's film adaptation of EARNEST proved, you can simply cast good actors, turn on the camera, and let Oscar Wilde's brilliant text do the rest. What made Oliver Parker think he was a superior writer? I found his 'editing' and 'insertions' into AN IDEAL HUSBAND to be grating, but the shredding he gives to EARNEST deserves some major dishonor.

IN CONCLUSION:

As I'm stepping off my haughty soapbox, I'll reiterate: as a movie on its own, this film is passably entertaining. As an adaptation of the comic masterpiece known as THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Parker should be strung up, drawn and quartered.

(And he should leave HUSBAND and OTHELLO alone too, while he's at it.)


 

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2002 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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