“A Good Woman” is almost a textbook example of what can go wrong in transforming a play into a movie. Oscar Wilde’s serious-minded farce “Lady Windermere’s Fan” has been pointlessly updated from the Victorian age to the 1930's, “opened up” in a manner that only accentuates its stagebound origins (people walk around during their scenes for no other reason than the fact that they can) and miscast in such a way that you can quickly understand why the film has been sitting on a shelf for a long time.The usually appealing Helen Hunt is absolutely grating as an infamous seductress who ventures off to Italy to escape her latest scandal by latching on to a rich young American on his honeymoon (Mark Umbers), much to the consternation of his bride (Scarlett Johansson in the kind of ingenue role that she has long since outgrown) and to the misunderstanding of other observers. Eventually, the rumors and misunderstanding grow so overwhelming that the young girl comes close to foolishly throwing away her virtue until the older woman saves the day for entirely unexpected reasons.
Directed at a leaden pace by Mike Barker, Wilde’s endless array of quips and bon mots sound less like dialogue here and more like the actors are simply reading selections from “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” and even if they worked, the film would still flounder because of the simple fact that Helen Hunt is one of the least convincing merry seductresses in film history–the role cries out for the far livelier likes of Julianne Moore or Susan Sarandon instead. The only saving grace on display (if you don’t count Johansson’s truly inspiring display of cleavage) is a nice supporting performance from Tom Wilkinson as a man of a certain age and means who knows exactly the kind of person that Hunt’s character is and who finds himself truly and completely besotted nevertheless. Maybe someone will catch his work here and hire him to appear in a decent Wilde adaptation someday.Oh, wait! A check of IMDB has reminded me that Wilkinson has appeared in just such an adaptation, the sturdy and amusing 2002 version of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Seek that out this weekend and put “A Good Woman” back on the shelf where it belongs.