Friday, September 12, 2014

A Good Woman

Originally Written and Posted at on 8/3/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the play Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde, A Good Woman is the story of a seductress who meets a newlywed as she raises the suspicions of the newlywed's bride. Directed by Mike Barker and screenplay by Howard Himelstein, the film is an exploration into the world of the upper-class set in 1930s Italy before the era of Facism as it plays into a young woman dealing with the idea of infidelity as well as the mystery over the appearance of this older woman. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Helen Hunt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Mark Umbers, and Milena Vukotic. A Good Woman is an engaging and worthwhile film from Mike Barker.

Fleeing New York City onboard a ship to the coast of Amalfi, Italy, a notorious seductress of rich men in Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) sees a paper about the arrival of a couple of newlyweds who are to stay in Amalfi to celebrate the 21st birthday of the young Meg Windermere (Scarlett Johansson). In Amalfi, Meg and her husband Robert (Mark Umbers) just bought a new villa for the summer season where they’re surrounded by a posh company that includes the young Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), Contessa Lucchino (Milena Vukotic), her daughter Alessandra (Giorgia Massetti), and Lady Plymdale (Diana Hardcastle). Meg had just met Darlington in a glove store where she’s often surrounded by the company of Lucchino who does nothing but gossip. Robert meanwhile, is surrounded by the company of older men including Cecil (Roger Hammond), Dumby (John Standing), and a lord named Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson).

While shopping for some jewelry, Robert meets Mrs. Erlynne who suggests that he buys a fan for Meg where the two have lunch where their frequent meetings arouses some suspicion. During another get together, Mrs. Erlynne meets Tuppy, who is smitten by her charm. Despite all the gossips surrounding Mrs. Erlynne and her affairs with rich husbands in America, Tuppy sways away from the gossip to learn more about her. Meg, walking around the town doesn't suspect anything of Robert's meetings assuming that he's working as she accompanied by Lord Darlington where she's aware that he's flirting with her. During a night in the opera, Meg starts to hear the rumors about Mrs. Erlynne, whom she met earlier at a clothing store, where she hears some Robert trying to defend her.

Meg has some suspicions about Robert's comments as he learns that Tuppy will be going to her birthday party the next day as Robert will ask Tuppy not to bring Mrs. Erlynne. Tuppy meanwhile, is invited to Mrs. Erlynne's villa where she is staying as he reveals he's been divorced, twice, while he wants to marry Mrs. Erlynne because of her wit and charm. Mrs. Erlynne admits to be wooed by Tuppy as she claims that she's not a good woman to be with but Tuppy doesn't care. After another visit from Lord Darlington to help her party, his flirtations continue as she starts to learn that what everyone had been gossiping. Feeling heartbroken, she turns to Lucchino for advice while Robert tries to get Mrs. Erlynne out of the country in order to not reveal a secret that's overheard by Dumby. The night of the party begins where Mrs. Erlynne does show up with Tuppy as Meg shocks partygoers with a new dress that she had earlier suggested was indecent as she is angered at Robert's supposed affair. Things only get worse when Darlington's flirtations gets to her as does her anger towards Robert. Mrs. Erlynne watches everything that goes on hoping to save Meg from a mistake she's about to make as she does something sacrificial.

While the film carries its flaws due to often rushed-pacing style and the miscasting of a couple of actors. The film is very true to the playful wit of Oscar Wilde as director Mike Barker and screenwriter Howard Himelstein does create an entertaining, witty film that's really about a young woman whose is ravaged by gossips of adultery and nearly commits one only to get help from the most unexpected person. The script succeeds in not developing the characters but also making an interesting subplot in the relationship of Tuppy and Mrs. Erlynne since that story is about a woman who is unaware that the right man is trying to woo her. Barker does some great work in using the actual Amalfi locales where the film is shot on location in Amalfi that is true the Italian villa for its posh atmosphere. Even the approaching of setting the film in the 1930s does succeed in what Wilde had been trying to say about the upper-class society and their ignorance. Overall, it's a fine film crafted by Barker and company.

Helping Barker in capturing the rich atmosphere of the Italian coast is cinematographer Ben Seresin whose wonderful depth of camera work from the exterior settings of Italy, especially in the night shows its beauty. Even the interior settings is wonderful light with an array of yellow sunlight and greenish surroundings give the film some of its beautiful settings. Production designer Ben Scott and art director Pier Luigi Basile also does some great work on the locales, notably the interiors of the villas which has a breathtaking feel to the poshness of upper-class Europeans. The costume design of John Bloomfield works to convey the feel and dazzle that is the 1930s. Editor Neil Farrell does some excellent work in the perspective cutting and the structure of the story where the only problem was its rushed pacing. The film's music features a wonderfully buoyant and dramatic score from Richard G. Mitchell filled with flourishing arrangements with a soundtrack filled with 1930s jazz cuts.

The film has a great supporting cast filled with excellent British and Italian actors. Smaller parts from Giorgia Massetti as the nerdy Alessandra and Diana Hardcastle as Lady Plymdale are hilarious for their parts in how they assume things. Roger Hammond and John Standing are also wonderful in their roles as the gossiping men of Cecil and Dumby, respectively, where Standing has a bigger role in the way he accidentally eavesdrop on an important information that is crucial to the film's plot. Milena Vukotic is excellent as the aloof, gossiping Contessa who is often accompanied by her little dogs and always say some of the most ignorant things as she brings in a memorable and funny performance. Stephen Campbell Moore is also wonderful in his role as the charming, flirtatious Lord Darlington with good looks and concerned personality as Moore manages to make the Darlington character a real standout with some depth. Mark Umber however, isn't as successful when playing Robert Windermere where despite a few scenes, he often comes across as bland and uninteresting making the Robert Windermere character to be very one-note.

Tom Wilkinson is the film's best supporting performance as the smitten yet intelligent Tuppy. Wilkinson manages to be a real standout among many of the supporting cast by being the only character who doesn't judge anyone and tries to understand people. He's a man of good intentions and manages not to make a fool of himself, even when he isn't aware of what's going on. Wilkinson brings a lot of pride and respect to the character as it stands out to be one of his finest performances. Helen Hunt is alright as Mrs. Erlynne where she has some good scenes with Wilkinson though is often one-note at times as it's not one of her finer roles. Finally, there's Scarlett Johansson in a fantastic performance as Meg Windermere as this young woman trying to find herself as a wife where she deals with the idea of her husband's infidelity as well as the temptation to cheat on him as it's really one of Johansson's finest performances.

The Region 1 DVD from Lions Gate shows the film in a 16x9 widescreen format of 1:78:1 ratio with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and English/Spanish subtitles. The only extras the DVD features are trailers for several of Lions Gate features like The Cooler, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Shattered Glass which is their alternative to the horror films they've been releasing. The only special feature on the DVD is a commentary track from director Mike Barker and producer Alan Greenspan.

Their commentary is relaxed and enjoyable though at times, they stop just to watch a scene. Yet, Barker and Greenspan talk about a lot of the difficulty of making the film, due to finding locations where a lot of the interiors were shot in Rome and weather conditions where they shot from October of 2003 to February of 2004. Barker goes more into technical detail on the film while revealing the difficulty of hiding Helen Hunt's pregnancy. Barker also talks about Scarlett Johansson's professionalism and how the film schedule stretched due to the fact that she was getting a lot of praise around that time for Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring were she had to fly from the U.S. to Italy and so on to promote those two films. Overall, it's an enjoyable commentary.

A Good Woman is an enjoyable and witty film from Mike Barker thanks in part to Scarlett Johansson's splendid performance as well as the supporting performance of Tom Wilkinson. While it is a film with some flaws as it can be described as style over substance. It is still a compelling film that explores a young woman dealing with the presence of an older woman in a case of misunderstanding and confusion. In the end, A Good Woman is a pretty good film from Mike Barker.

© thevoid99 2014

No comments: