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Bright Young Things
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by Erik Childress

"HEY Celebrity – Over Here! What? NO?! UP YOURS!!!"
4 stars

The appearance of celebrities in the limelight used to present itself as an innocent attachment to our daily lives. Look at the beautiful people attending the red carpet premieres or award shows. Aren’t they glamorous? And I’m thinking back to the time of newsreels when a booming voice would entice the Hollywood in all of us with quick snips of bright lights and elegance. Then came gossip rags and television, all parlaying to a modern disgrace with the likes of disgusting programming Celebrity Justice and E!’s Celebrities Uncensored. Oh how far we’ve fallen with the mighty. Or have we?

Based on the appropriately titled novel, “Vile Bodies” by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things wastes no time in plunging us right into the profligacy of 1930s London. The rich huddle together at a party; dancing, drinking and snorting their path to an evening’s happiness. The radio warns of the brink of war, but nobody is paying attention.

Arriving fresh off the boat is Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore) who is looking forward to marrying socialite Nina Blount (the ravishing Emily Mortimer). Finally he may just have the money he needs to satisfy her place in the societal upper class. But customs snatches his titular manuscript, proclaiming it as filth and refuses to allow it into the country. Such moral platitude all while a “journalist” under the psedounym of “Mr. Chatterbox” roams about, reporting on the every move of the 24-hour party people.

Adam’s talent for falling into money is only matched by his ability to lose it just as quickly, resulting in a running joke of his wedding plans called off repeatedly for not having a dollar in his pocket. He manages to fall into a new job and quickly becomes addicted to the imaginative power one can wield when reporting on the fantasies that members of the press believe the lower rungs lust after.

Bright Young Things is at its best when capturing the party atmosphere of the time, its aloof morality and those who prey upon it for their own gain. Like a scene reminiscent of Paris Hilton’s Simple Life as partiers are invited back to the affluent home of hanger-ons only to have their parents subject to a rude awakening. Some in their own circle turn righteous and scold them from within, like Stockard Channing’s touring choir director who chastises party guests after accepting their invitation and dressing like the beautiful people. In an even more telling scene, the door is shut on one partygoer who then ignores his status as a privilege and uses his position to maliciously skewer everyone with the pretense of truth.

Supporting performances like Channing’s brief appearance add more color than the often splendid period details of the production design. Dan Aykroyd turns in a hysterical performance reminiscent of the great newspaper bosses of the screwball era. Jim Broadbent is always welcome as a drunken major whose true motives are constantly in question. And Peter O’Toole shows up for a single scene and brings the house down as Nina’s slightly mad father. Those praising his turn in Troy can see some real acting here.

By the final act, Bright Young Things has begun to lose its luster. It shifts focus back on the relationship of Adam and Nina, bringing us down to Earth again and reminding us that these are just ordinary people with the same emotional problems. One character’s admittance to a mental hospital after what seems like just another drunken lack of judgment and a pair of tragic deaths turn satire into gloom. Questionable behavior by our hero becomes downright misogynistic instead of fitting into the initial outrageousness of the stories.

Writer/director Stephen Fry missteps by asking us to finally care about these people who don’t deserve our tears. Then again, there may be a point found in the turn. So we choose not to care. Maybe then we do want the gossip and the petty vicarious living through lives we can both admire and loathe at the same time. Perhaps we haven’t fallen that far after all. Or maybe its actually further then we think.

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originally posted: 06/09/04 11:31:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/28/04 DM Uneven but still pretty funny 4 stars
12/30/03 Belinda ending untrue to spirit of the book 3 stars
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  20-Aug-2004 (R)
  DVD: 08-Feb-2005



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