See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

A Good Woman

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Whatever happened to Helen Hunt? After a hit sitcom, an undeserved Oscar and starring roles in big blockbusters (the abominable What Women Want and the almost-good Cast Away), she practically disappeared into the ether for about five years. The vehicle that she's chosen for her big screen return isn't likely to light a fire under her fan base, either. A lukewarm adaptation of Oscar Wilde's comedy of manners Lady Windermere's Fan, the film casts Hunt as a scandalous seductress, a "notorious Jezebel" who uses her stinging wit and shapely body to lull men into submission before she bleeds their pocketbooks dry. For the whiny, bland woman with a billboard-sized forehead best known for a playing the wife on Mad About You, it's a stretch to say the least.

Hunt seems miscast from the first shot: Introduced in a shrouded, mysterious profile, she does manage to look like a femme fatale; but as soon as her chirpy voice and birdlike features come into view, the movie loses its footing and never recovers. Her Mrs. Erlynne is a gold-digger first seen fleeing New York for the more hospitable climate of Italy, where she plans on digging her claws into the wealthy, young newlywed Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers). His wife Meg (Scarlett Johansson) is a dewy young innocent who suspects no wrongdoing from her doting husband, even as the other high-society folk in Italy for the holiday begin to gossip about Robert's dalliances with Mrs. Erlynne. The yacht-owning playboy Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), meanwhile, would like nothing more than to reveal Robert's indiscretions to his wife, in the hopes that Meg will come running into his arms. And Mrs. Erlynne has her hands full trying to resist the sexual advances of the blustery Tupper (Tom Wilkinson).

These are all the right ingredients for a playful romp, and screenwriter Howard Himelstein does an admirable job of packing the script with Wilde's witticisms. He's even added a few Americans characters and transplanted the action from Victorian London to 1930s Italy; but the changes seem to have been made just to get some Hollywood names in the cast and fulfill the art-house film quota for floppy hats and exotic beach scenery. Some of the actors seem born to speak Wilde's lines: Wilkinson is his usual wry, brilliant self, and Johansson is ideally cast as the doe-eyed ingenue who gradually gets wise and grows a spine. Kicking her feet in the air and giggling like a little girl at first, Johansson makes an utterly convincing transformation to world-weary wife. Her dialogue never sounds like it's been force-fed, which is more than can be said for the stilted Hunt. Johansson's so good it makes you wonder if any All About Eve-style bitchery took place behind the scenes, between the has-been Oscar winner and the up-and-coming starlet. Now there's a movie that would be entertaining to watch.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Michael Hastings

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 28, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit