The Importance of Being Earnest

The last time Oscar Wilde's The Importance or Being Earnest appeared on screen, its performers were juvenile delinquents performing in drag in Borstal Boy. Thankfully, although this new version takes some liberties with Wilde's play, it retains enough of the spirit and exuberance of the original to still make it enjoyable. One can say that with a play as good as this one, it takes effort to ruin it. The Importance of Being Earnest is basically a breezy romantic farce that relies heavily on witty banter between the all of the actors. When done properly, it is tremendously funny, even after multiple viewings. For those unfamiliar, the title itself is a play on words. There is no "Ernest" in the movie, although two friends are both running around pretending they are him.

Jack (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones's Diary, Londinium) owns a country estate but frequently travels to the city. Ernest is his make believe cousin, who is a scoundrel. Jack uses the Ernest persona as an excuse, for, among other things, skipping out on restaurant checks. He is courting Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor, A.I., Bedazzled), the niece of the crotchety old Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench, Iris, The Shipping News). Bracknell is refusing to give Gwendolen's hand to Ernest (not Jack). Jack's friend Algy (Rupert Everett, The Next Best Thing, Inspector Gadget) is probably much closer to the Ernest lothario that Jack envisioned. He is curious about Jack's young, beautiful ward Cecily (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde, The Trumpet of the Swan), and goes to Jack's country estate posing as Ernest.

Since this is a romantic farce, things do not go as planned. Gwendolen arrives at the manor, and she and Cecily discover that both men are lying, so they decide to turn the tables on the men. They are not the only ones that get into the act. Cecily's tutor Miss Prism (Anna Massey, Dark Blue World, Room to Rent) has a crush on Dr. Chasuble (Tom Wilkinson, Black Knight, In the Bedroom), who has a crush on her. Both are too timid to do anything about it. Things progress on their merry way, getting worse for the men as the movie goes on. Director Oliver Parker (An Ideal Husband, Othello) moves things at a quick clip, as it should. Slowing down the material ruins the effect. The quick delivery befits the general tone of the movie, with its quick retorts and verbal sparring.

Of all the actors, Witherspoon is the worst. She is not bad, per se, just not as good as everybody else. She is in over her head in comparison to the rest of the cast, especially seasoned actors like Firth, Dench, and O'Connor. Dench is at her acerbic best, and Everett is bordering on slime, but Firth is the most fun to watch. He is making a career for himself playing men who are smart, yet sometimes awkward. He always looks uncomfortable, especially around the opposite sex. It's the script and the actors that make The Importance of Being Earnest work, and while it may not match some of the better staged productions, it is still amusing to watch.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG for mild sensuality.

Back to Movies