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A Good Woman

If you're the type of modernist who prefers action to storytelling, steer well clear of A Good Woman; for those in the minority, this Oscar Wilde adaptation will be innocuous, if not mildly pleasing.


In 1930, Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt), an American socialite in search of debt relief and a fresh start, transfers to Amalfi, Italy. Her reputation as an indiscriminant adulterer comes along, and she's quickly the talk of the small town. Amidst her misadventures with married men, she stumbles upon Robert (Mark Umbers) and Meg (Scarlett Johansson), a young, blissfully married couple from America. Robert immediately strikes up a relationship with the older temptress, and it's immediately assumed by the resident paparazzi-a.k.a. citizens with binoculars and nothing better to do-that he is the latest prey. Meanwhile, Mrs. Erlynne is being courted by another, wealthier man named Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson), who can't help but fall for her despite tepid interest on her end. When Meg learns of her husband's rumored paramour, she reacts hastily, uncovering surprises that shock and affect all involved.


The acting is where A Good Woman suffers. The female leads, while both rightfully esteemed actresses, are both miscast. Hunt's Mrs. Erlynne has a world-wise and profound retort for every question thrown her way, but her delivery just doesn't fit her words; she seems uninspired but it's much more likely her trying too hard. Johansson, meanwhile, is an anachronism in the film: She is an impossible sell for a reason having nothing to do with physical beauty or acting chops-she's completely and simply, at long last, out of her element. But Wilkinson, as always, shines, here as the pathetic yet adorable Tuppy. It's perfectly plausible to see him in 1930s Italy-or any setting whatsoever. His eloquence befits the time and place, and he makes his sad little man engaging, funny and relatable, even today.


Director Mike Barker is charged with bringing A Good Woman, adapted from Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan, to the big screen. It's a tall order to adapt someone as revered as Wilde, especially on the heels of the widely lauded adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but Barker comes through for the most part. Luckily for him, the lush, mesmerizing scenery of the setting is at the forefront. And the director would've succeeded in transporting us back to the whole exotic, pristine milieu, had it not been for the aforementioned actresses' inabilities to do the same. Nonetheless, he holds up his end, retelling a typically complex Wilde tale of love and narrow-mindedness, without butchering or overstating the message.

Bottom Line rated this movie 2 stars.