Bleak `Bright Young Things'

September 24, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVE CRITIC

Bright Young Things follows a group of Britons in pre-World War II London who have elevated pointlessness to a lifestyle, if not an art form. They eat, they drink, they flirt, they debauch, then they start all over again.

Adapted from Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies, the movie paints a bleak picture of a generation adrift, and apparently loving it. Sure, there are some tragic underpinnings to it all, but hardly anyone seems to notice - with the end result that Things is far more interesting than intriguing, more frustrating than illuminating. Save for a welcome appearance by Peter O'Toole as a daft grandfather who proves that obtuseness can span generations, it's a movie that steadfastly refuses to offer audiences a compelling reason to watch.

Newcomer Stephen Campbell Moore is Adam Symes, an author who returns to his native England in hopes of making a living on the strength of a manuscript - an expose of his peers' wild lifestyle. Alas, his only copy is confiscated by an overzealous customs agent who wants none of that sort of material infecting merry old England.

Thus is Symes left to his own devices, and they prove unreliable, especially when it comes to the company he keeps. There's his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Nina (Emily Mortimer), conversant in only two areas: where's the party, and when can Adam get enough money for them to get married? There's party-girl Agatha (Fenella Woolgar), flamboyantly gay Miles (Michael Sheen) and soullessly rich Ginger (David Tennant).

Fortunate happenstance turns him from a penniless wordsmith to a well-off prestidigitator, but then he recklessly squanders his newfound wealth by handing it all over to a drunken major (hammy Jim Broadbent) to bet on a horse.

Eventually, Adam lands a job as an undercover gossip columnist for a British tabloid (whose editor is played by Dan Aykroyd), writing about his friends' outrageous exploits. Even there, however, neither his fortune nor his fortunes improve. What's a gadabout to do?

Waugh's novel ends on a note of melancholy and irony that brings home the idea of a hapless generation seemingly (and perilously) at peace with its haplessness. British comedian Stephen Fry, in his first film as writer-director, alters the ending into a life-affirming coda that seems at odds with the rest of the film - a typical Hollywood ending that seems forced.

Bright Young Things may be a laudable snapshot of what it was like to be a young British upper-class twit in the 1920s and 1930s, but it fails to dig beneath that surface picture and offer up anything in the way of explanation or motivation.

Bright Young Things

Starring Emily Mortimer, Stephen Campbell Moore

Written and directed by Stephen Fry

Rated R (drug use)

Released by ThinkFilm

Time 105 minutes

Sun Score **1/2

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