by Kerry Burke
The English have such a sublime sense of humor. The opening scene in Bright Young Things (set to one of the all-time greatest swing tunes, Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing) is colorful and hedonistic. From the moment writer and director Stephen Fry starts the film, you know you’ve been granted entrance into a terrific party. Here we meet the delicate leading lady Nina, played by Emily Mortimer (Young Adam, Lovely and Amazing), who, while dancing wildly in a crowded room, laments her intolerable ennui to friend Miles, played by Michael Sheen (Laws of Attraction, Wilde). Fry’s sardonic commentary on the good-life propels a hilarious and fantastic journey into the lives of the fortunate.
Set in glamorous 1930’s London, the story follows a group of socialites whose lives consist of drinking absinthe, snorting drugs and creating slanderous fodder for the gossip columns. To call this film a period piece would be unjust, as Fry’s keen storytelling stands out as the driving force, to which the actors add the brilliant, witty turbo. Nina’s fiance Adam, an aspiring novelist played by adorable newcomer Stephen Campbell Moore, is a straight-laced, quiet gentleman who makes ends meet as a newspaper reporter while waiting for his ship to come in, which will allow him enough wealth to justify wedding Nina. Simon, played by James McAvoy (Band of Brothers) is Adam’s colleague and the anonymous gossip writer who is plagued with contempt for the very subject on which he makes his living. Agatha, the awkward-looking but powerful protagonist brilliantly played by Fenella Woolgar, leads the mischief of this group, ever so unapologetic and wry. Even when she finds herself committed to a mental institution as a result of one of her infamous stunts, she still draws a party to her hospital bedside.
There are multiple storylines going on at any given time, mostly tragic but never sad. Fry’s writing is unabashed, spewing these people’s lives on the screen with a smirk. You’ll love most of them, but you’ll hate a few, and that’s exactly what makes this film work. It’s mostly episodic commentary, which ultimately plays an integral role in keeping this film interesting. Most of the actors are unknowns on this side of the pond, but with Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent and Stockard Channing in flashy supporting roles, the film has just the pinch of salt it needs to make it sing.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Township. Call 248-263-2111.
Kerry Burke writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.