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Bright Young Things plunges right into its
Jazz Age mood and period with a frenzied theme party, "Inferno," filmed with red
filters for its hellish allusion, with "Sing, Sing, Sing" on the soundtrack
injecting frenetic energy and placing the time squarely in the 1930's. It's the young
British aristocracy, dancing and snorting cocaine, oblivious to the Great Depression,
despising the paparazzi but glorying in the publicity--the targets of the Evelyn Waugh's
darkly satirical novel, Vile
Bodies, on which the film is based. At the center of the multi-character story is Adam Syme (Stephen
Campbell Moore) who has written a novel, the manuscript of which is confiscated by a
customs officer at the start. "If we cant stamp out literature in the country,
we can at least stop its being brought in from outside," he is told.
This unfortunate event leaves Adam broke (and, indeed, in debt for the
advance on the book), preventing him from marrying the love of his life, beautiful Nina
Blount (Emily Mortimer), who loves him in return, but is all too aware of the need for
money to sustain the style that their crowd enjoys.
The film follows Symes' ups and downs while sketching in the characters
of the people in his life: his eccentric father-in-law-to-be (Peter O'Toole in a droll
cameo); Lord Monomark (Dan Ackroyd), publisher of the Daily Excess; Simon
Balcairn (James McAvoy), gossip columnist for Monomark; Agatha (a supremely comical
Fenella Woolgar), a party girl who has a try at auto racing; Miles (Michael Sheen), fey
and gay and rather indiscreet. Stockard Channing gets one scene as an American
bible-thumping preacher and Sir John Mills has no lines, but rather simply snorts them.
Simon Callow plays the disenthroned King of Anatolia and Jim Broadbent is an elusive Army
major who owes our hero a substantial sum that he won betting on a horse. The partying
never ceases, even as the thoughtless revelers leave a trail of damage behind them,
including suicide and insanity.
It all concludes with the outbreak of World War II. Adam comes back
from the battlefield believing Nina to be dead and seeking out the son she told him they
had together. It's a coda, not in the novel, that writer-director Stephen Fry has tacked
on and, therefore might just enrage Waugh purists. It does slip into a romantic mode of
which the ever acerbic Waugh might indeed have disapproved, but it doesn't spoil the film.
Prior to that sequence, Fry has achieved a difficult and tricky balance between dark
satire and meaningful characterizations, poking hard satirical jabs at his subjects while
keeping the leads sufficiently real to be sympathetic. And he seems as fascinated with
color as Zhang Yimou is in Hero. In addition to the red
Inferno party scene, there's a blue party scene, and Nina's apartment is dominated by an
elegant celadon green.
Fry, best known as a first-rate actor (Wilde,
Gosford Park), makes his
debut here as both screenwriter and director, but Bright Young Things has the
complexity, along with the verve and polish and style expected of a seasoned filmmaker.
- Arthur Lazere