The Importance of Being Earnest (review)

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It’s a sorry commentary on the state of contemporary film that the script for the best-written movie so far this year is more than a century old. It’s arrant nonsense, of course, but even this hundred-year-old nonsense is fresher, sillier, more vibrant, more delicious than anything of recent vintage. Combine that classic play with an absolutely scrumptious cast with a dazzling flair for Oscar Wilde’s sharp repartee — Rupert Everett (Shakespeare in Love), Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’s Diary), Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde), Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence), Dame Judi Dench (The Shipping News) — and you get a comedy of manners that is both mannered and hilarious, one that brims with sexual tension, one in which every line drips, as Wilde intended, with wit and snidely observant humor (“London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years”). The story is — which concerns bored rich people with no money and too much time on their hands, the terror of aunts, a left-luggage baby, multiple mistaken identities, a primer on how to shock society, and true love — is beside the point. The point is merely to laugh — a lot — and leave the theater walking on air and feeling that surely silliness will never reach so splendid an apex again. As Oscar might have said, movies are not either good nor bad but either charming or tedious. This Earnest is definitely one of the charming persuasion.

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