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Bright Young Things
Director: Stephen Fry
Cast: Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Fenella Woolgar, Dan Aykroyd, Peter OíToole
hough Bright Young Things is set in 1930ís London, its characters embody the same reckless spirit found in todayís youths. God, just saying that makes me feel somehow out of touch, as if Iíve already adopted the grumpy demeanor of a middle aged man bitter and nostalgic for his glory days. No, the truth is I identified with more than a few of these characters. I recognized old and current friends. I even saw my own self (minus the British accent) in one of them; a fact that, after stepping back from the film, I find quite frightening.
Itís not simply that these characters like to party without regard for what the older generation thinks (and believe me, they donít approve), itís that they donít know when theyíve gone too far. Is it when one character, Agatha (Fenella Woolgar) wakes up in the prime ministerís house after a night of cocaine to find sheís made front page news and caused a political scandal? Or is it when that same character, after being committed to an asylum, decides to throw a party in her hospital room?
The main character here is Adam Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore) who has been contracted by Lord Monomark (Dan Aykroyd), who owns a newspaper known for its scandalous gossip columns, to write a novel for him. Unfortunately, Adamís book is seized by customs upon his arrival because they consider it pornography.
"You like this hat? I won it at the county fair."
Without his book, Adam now finds himself without any money, which he intended to use to marry his lover Nina (Emily Mortimer). Throughout the film his situation constantly shifts. He comes into some money, calls Nina to say he can marry her, subsequently loses that money, calls her back and cancels the plans.
Later in the film, Lord Monomarkís main gossip columnist, Mr. Chatterbox, kills himself and Monomark offers the column to Adam. Of course, most of the people who Mr. Chatterbox wrote about (as well as Mr. Chatterbox himself who is really Simon Balcaim) were close friends to Adam, so he cannot publish secrets about them and instead decides to make up fictitious people to defame. With the money heís making with this job, he can once again marry Nina. Then an old friend of hers shows up to complicate things once again.
In between juggling his messy relationship and financial matters, Adam goes to numerous parties with his friends Agatha, whose excess is perhaps even alarming to her friends, and Miles (Michael Sheen), who has a problem concealing both his homosexuality and a pocket mirror containing a rather mischievous white powder.
If the film has one flaw, itís that it simply has too much going on. The characters, of which there are many, talk very quickly and somewhat esoterically, using the kind of shorthand speak youíd use with close friends. While this furnishes the dialogue with a sense of authenticity, it can be a bit bewildering for some viewers.
Nor does help that at times the direction becomes distracting as well. Stephen Fry (whose name I recognized but couldnít quite place, until I remembered him as Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde) directs competently enough, but sometimes opts for unnecessary scene transitions, such as the George Lucas old reliable wipe.
Ray Stanz sells out...
But the film has many charms, the most gratifying of which are the minor roles given to some well-known actors. In addition to Dan Aykroyd as the tabloid tycoon, Peter OíToole has a hilarious role as Ninaís senile father, who offers Adam money several times but signs each respective check Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. Likewise, Jim Broadbent appears every now and then as a drunken major who owes Adam quite a bit of money, promises to pay him, then mysteriously disappears. His presence, much like everything in the film, constitutes a never ending cycle that doesnít allow any sort of stability for its characters. Occasionally circumstances appear to give Adam hope for a better life, then without warning they vanish and heís back where he began: broke and alone.
Adamís friend Agatha, while hospitalized in an asylum, relates a dream to him in which all her friends are driving cars around a track. They keep going faster and faster, but never stop. One by one they all crash until only she is left driving. With that in mind, itís only fitting that Bright Young Things final half hour shifts tones to become far less cheerful and carefree. Itís like coming down off a high. All the characters were simply too strung out to realize what they were doing. Only when they begin to become aware of their respective situations do we start to witness the consequences of their actions. And it couldnít come at a worse time, as war is declared in Europe and they can no longer isolate themselves from worldly affairs.
Unfortunately, Bright Young Things is the kind of film that will be largely ignored, quickly being rushed in and out of the art house theaters. Itís a shame, since it has opened in the midst of a cinematic dead-zone in which the lurching sequel to Resident Evil will no doubt top the box office. But if youíve read this far, I somehow doubt thatís the kind of movie that would draw you in. Trust me on this one-- youíre better off seeing Bright Young Things.
By: Dave Micevic
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