a little bit of David Tennant: ‘Bright Young Things’
Oh man, do I love this movie. It’s so good, and so chock full of a slew of bright young British actors — Michael Sheen, Emily Mortimer, Stephen Campbell Moore, Fenella Woolgar, James McAvoy — that I always forget that David Tennant is in it until he suddenly shows up and starts behaving in a generally disagreeable way. If his character in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is actively evil, then here he’s merely icky and repulsive… but seeing as this is a dramedy of social mores and manners, that makes him very much the villain indeed. I like that about Tennant, that he takes on unpleasant characters with such relish, like Ginger Littlejohn here, and doesn’t always feel the need to make them likeable.
It’s easy to see how that could have been the impulse, to make Ginger more likeable, with 2003’s Bright Young Things, because Stephen Fry — making his directorial debut, adapting the Evelyn Waugh novel, Vile Bodies — has such sympathy for all his characters, a gaggle of bored aristocrats in 1930s London. They’re almost all hopelessly shallow, but Fry’s approach to them is not: they may not entirely deserve his sympathy, but they get it nonetheless. Fry recognizes that their confusion and general messed-up-ed-ness is as much as product of their time as it is their own fault, and anyway, the upcoming War will be a right smack in the face to them all.
But in this deep — and funny! — movie about shallow people and the culture that created them, Tennant’s Ginger is unrelentingly horrid, if in a mild, upper-class-twit kind of way. He’s the kind of man who sees women as a commodity, prizes to be won from other men, though he pretends that overt discussion of women as prizes revolts him. He’s the kind of imbecile who says things like: “I mean, look here. Dammit. Do you see what I mean?” — his conversation is completely content-free. He sports what one character calls a “vulgar mustache” that makes him look “like a debt collector”… and even when he reveals the vain reason he wears a mustache, we want to laugh at him, even though it’s no more and no less pathetic and petty and indicative of normal human weakness than the foibles of every other character here. It’s as if Tennant goes out of his way here to ensure that we see Ginger as a weasel.
Look: Poor Emily Mortimer can’t bear to be kissed by him
he’s that gross.
If one quick hit could describe Bright Young Things, I’d call it “poignant satire.” Except there’s nothing poignant about Tennant’s Ginger. He’s the character we love to hate here.
Geek alert: Here’s Tennant with Mark Gatiss, who’d show up later in one of Tennant’s Doctor Who episodes:
Not suitable for:
• anyone with a phobia of vulgar facial hair
David Tennant checklist:
• Scottish accent: no
• big hair: no
• ginger hair: yes
• nudity: no
• sex: no
• do you want to have sex with him: no
• alcohol/drugs/smoking: yes
• snazzy automobile that all the chicks dig: yes
[part of my “summer of David Tennant and ‘Hamlet’” series]