Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things

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Countless social unrests gave rise to the Red Scare of 1918-1921. In America, the 18th Amendment prohibited the consumption and sale of alcohol, and though the era was known for its political conservatism and anti-immigration policies, it was also an era of unprecedented prosperity and social freedoms: women had won the right to vote in 1920 and a perpetually intoxicated jet set were taking to night clubs across the nation. This was the time of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, Ernest Heminway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda—purveyors of a “Jazz Age” known for its fragile young creatures in search of a national identity. Written in 1930, Vile Bodies was Evelyn Waugh’s satirical tribute to London’s frenetic party people, and now it’s the basis for actor Stephen Fry’s directorial debut, the spectacularly irrelevant Bright Young Things. Adam Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore) is a writer whose impending marriage to the lovely Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer) is either on or off depending on the contents of his wallet. His repeated attempts to make some money are intercut with the bacchanalia of the city’s jet set. Complicating matters is newspaper publisher Lord Monomark (Dan Aykroyd), who encourages Adam to spy on his friends as gossip columnist “Mr. Chatterbox,” a nom de plume adapted by more than one person throughout the film and whose identity is a constant source of mystery. Fry understands the political disconnect of the era—Monomark points out that a happily embellished story about the Bright Young Things is more profitable than the latest tidbit about Mussolini—but can’t be bothered to complicate his characters. Since their troubles are barely alluded to (one gay character must flee the country or go the way of Oscar Wilde), these characters make less of an impression than their constant jigging and coke-snorting. That’s not to say that Bright Young Things isn’t frequently hysterical or well-performed (in the film’s finest moment, Stockard Channing appears as an evangelical debutante whose chorus of singing angels evoke a hymn which begins, “There ain’t no flies on the lamb of God”), but its political resistance is frustrating. Like Armory Blaine from Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, these characters are egotistical, indifferent, even annoying, but they don’t exactly turn inward once the world outside their dancehalls becomes too difficult to ignore.

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DVD
Distributor
THINKFilm
Runtime
106 min
Rating
R
Year
2003
Director
Stephen Fry
Screenwriter
Stephen Fry
Cast
Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, David Tennant, Fenella Woolgar, James McAvoy, Julia McKenzie, Stockard Channing, Michael Sheen, Alex Barclay, Simon Callow, Guy Henry, Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, Harriet Walter, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Fry, Richard E. Grant, Peter O'Toole