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Review: A Good Woman

This is a banal disquisition of polite society that could have been orchestrated by Jackie Collins.

A Good Woman
Photo: Lions Gate Films

I freely admit to watching the entirety of Mike Barker’s new film without the knowledge that it was an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, but even such ignorance is unlikely to convince anyone that A Good Woman (its name taken from the Wilde play’s subtitle A Play About a Good Woman) is nothing but a banal disquisition of polite society that could have been orchestrated by Jackie Collins. After the wives of her paramours drive her out of New York City, Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) arrives in 1930s Italy by the grace of Town & Country, wooing—or so it would seem—the hunky Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers) and incurring the wrath of the gossipy Amalfi jet set. In reality, Mrs. Erlynne is blackmailing Robert so she won’t be inclined to disclose the fact that she is his wife Meg’s (Scarlett Johansson) mother. When Meg’s misunderstanding of Mrs. Erlynne and her husband’s relationship nearly drives the luscious 20-year-old into the arms of her husband’s friend Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), mama bear allows herself to show a bit of maternal instinct by sacrificing her potential marriage to the eccentric Tuppy (a hammy but reliable Tom Wilkinson) in order to protect her oblivious cub. The title of the film is somewhat of a misnomer since the lethargic journey the story makes from point A to point Z is laced with more aphorisms than good intentions. I’ll concede that Wilde’s fans are right to call the playwright’s words pithy, but as delivered by Hunt and Johansson, they just sound stilted. Hunt casts an alluring sexual spell, but her strong physical presence doesn’t help to distract from the monotonous register of her voice, which was fine on network television but has never sounded quite right on the big screen. A triumph of costume design, A Good Woman is also a toothless dog with little internal momentum; it’s as bored with itself as Wilde must have been with the society he lampooned.

Cast: Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Umbers, Stephen Campbell Moore, Roger Hammond, Tom Wikinson, Milena Vukotic, John Standing, Giorgia Massetti, Diana Hardcastle, Shara Orano, Jane How Director: Mike Barker Screenwriter: Howard Himelstein Distributor: Lions Gate Films Running Time: 93 min Rating: PG Year: 2004 Buy: Video

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