Helen Hunt, Tom Wilkinson, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Umbers
|"A Good Woman" is a merely average film based upon a stage play of Oscar Wilde's called "Lady Windermere's Fan" starring Helen Hunt as Mrs. Erlynne, a seductress whose exploits get her chased out of New York City. After reading the society pages, she sets sail for Amalfi, Italy. It is here, it seems, she sets her sights on Lord Windermere (Mark Umbers) and recently wed to Meg (Scarlett Johansson).
Despite changing the locale from London to Italy, screenwriter Howard Himelstein is fairly successful at capture the dialogue intensity and ambiguity of a Wilde story.
Being based upon a Wilde play, it is obvious that nothing will be as it seems here, secrets will be kept, trusts will be betrayed, games will be played and, ultimately, the ending will be satisfying if somewhat disconnected.
Both Hunt and Johansson flounder here as the women who seemingly oppose each other. Hunt, whose acting style is perfectly suited to sitcom television, feels ill-suited to play this seductress. Either she couldn't decide on an angle or director Mike Barker offered little to no direction. Hunt's performance feels restrained, calculated and far too cautious. I kept thinking to myself that she'd have done herself well to have viewed "The Talented Mr. Ripley" prior to filming "A Good Woman."
Then, there's Johansson, a tremendously gifted actress offering her second weak performance in the past year. Ironically, both performances involved dialogue-heavy, finely nuanced characters. Again, it felt as if Johansson didn't have a grasp on her character...again, one has to wonder if Barker offered Johansson even a semblance of direction.
The relatively unknown Umbers is competent here, but Tom Wilkinson offers the only energetic performance as Tuppy (Though one must ask whose idea it was to borrow lines from "The Importance of Being Earnest" for this script?).
Beyond the lack of direction for the lead characters, Barker seemed to take a hands-off approach to directing scenes as well. Despite the exotic location of Italy, "A Good Woman" often feels as if it's actually playing out on a soundstage in South Bronx.
Other production aspects are fairly decent, though I question historical accuracy for costuming and production design. Even from my limited knowledge of such subjects, it was an obvious faux pas to use a Fender guitar in a 1930 concert scene...a full six years before the first Fender guitar was even produced commercially.
Despite it's seemingly endless flaws, "A Good Woman" somehow manages to be entertaining at times anyway. Much of this is due, undoubtedly, to Himelstein's interesting Wilde adaptation. This can also be attributed to Hunt's interesting, if not always successful, performance.
It would be an easy choice to blame the cast for the disappointing mediocrity of "A Good Woman," but the combination of weak performances, production issues and odd script choices makes one wonder if, perhaps, this material was simply beyond the grasp of director Mike Barker.
Not even Mrs. Erlynne could seduce me into watching "A Good Woman" again.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic