Movie review: “Bright Young Things”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The entertaining new film “Bright Young Things” takes place in 1930s London, where life in high society is one big party, where the witty, the not-so-witty and the hopelessly drunk try extremely hard to have a good time. Of course, the inevitable hangover eventually comes, adding a serious note to a gleefully superficial world.

The central figure is Adam Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), a writer who only needs a respectable amount of money to marry his beloved Nina (Emily Mortimer). Unfortunately her father (Peter O’Toole) is less than helpful, and his manuscript is confiscated by a customs official as smut. This leaves him beholden to his editor (Dan Aykroyd), who runs a newspaper by the name of the Daily Excess. The Excess is the mouthpiece of Mr. Chatterbox, a notorious gossip columnist, chronicling the debaucheries of the circle known as the Bright Young Things. Adam’s eventual employment as Mr. Chatterbox and constantly changing fortunes provide most of the plot.

Other characters include the hilarious Fenella Woolger as Agatha, the group’s most enthusiastic party animal, who, in one of the film’s best scenes, doesn’t find out exactly where she spent the night until reading of her antics in the paper over breakfast; and Jim Broadbent as a perpetually drunken major, who may or may not owe Adam a large sum of money. The idle rich are an easy target for satire, and the film makes the most of it.

The plot moves along swiftly enough (with the help of a spiffy jazz soundtrack), which is probably for the best since the relatively shallow characters would not withstand too much scrutiny. The pace is occasionally a bit episodic but a serious undercurrent is almost always present despite the film’s farcical plot. The characters’ desperation and boredom become increasingly evident, and some survive the party and the ensuring war more whole than others. The contemporary parallels are obvious and wisely not overemphasized.

“Bright Young Things” is the directorial debut of Stephen Fry (who starred in the biopic “Wilde”), and he draws engaging performances from the large cast. It is adapted from the novel “Vile Bodies,” by Evelyn Waugh, and, while the dialogue, often lifted directly from the book, is frequently witty, Waugh’s exquisite satiric, uproarious prose is missed. The film is a fun, light concoction that is a must-see for Waugh fans and intriguing for everyone else.

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