A Good Woman

”I can resist everything except temptation,” Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell-Moore) declares in A Good Woman, tossing off one of those Oscar Wildean bons mots that keep Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in business. The same can be said, with far less enthusiasm, of susceptible British director Mike Barker and magpie New York screenwriter Howard Himelstein, who have taken Lady Windermere’s Fan — Wilde’s first big stage success, written in 1892 — and pulped it senseless in the name of puttin’ on the charm. Then again, ”experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” No longer a coldly glittering play about British society types who do mischief with their bored gossip, this sappier telling moves the action to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, modernizes the wardrobe to suit the sexier 1930s, and messes with the whole Windermere DNA: Titled Lord and Lady W. have been replaced by Meg and Robert Windermere, guileless young Americans. And while they’re at it, the filmmakers have stifled Scarlett Johansson, who plays Meg — not an easy thing to do. With her modern tomboy elocution and frank sexuality, the forthright actress looks positively itchy and disoriented under her tight platinum blond ‘do, and when she speaks Wilde’s words (many lifted from the playwright’s other scripts and jumbled into A Good Woman like a homeless person bundled into all her sweaters), the actress’ characteristically blunt recitation does battle with the twittering quips by which she’s meant to enchant. As Mrs. Erlynne, meanwhile, in obvious wig cap and discomfort, Helen Hunt fumbles when she reaches with too much American insistence for the good in a woman everyone distrusts as bad.

In such an unsorted pile of misappropriated period-piece conventions (a touch of Brideshead Revisited here, a Lew Stone Tin Pan Alley ditty there), Tom Wilkinson provides some relief as Tuppy, a specimen of idle wealth who sees — and loves — Mrs. Erlynne for who she is. Wilkinson, too, plays the old boy with more humanity than the upper-class twit deserves. But at least he does so with such ease and pleasure that we’re grateful for the one actor who looks at home in this semi-Wilde country.

A Good Woman
  • Movie
  • 93 minutes