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The Importance of Being Earnest

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
The Importance of Being Earnest

from Film Forum, 01/31/02

The Importance of Being Earnest is getting a new big-screen treatment. It stars the British actors that weren't in Gosford Park, and the wife (Reese Witherspoon) of the American who was (Ryan Phillipe.) Judy Dench, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, and many more are featured.

from Film Forum, 05/30/02

For moviegoers who prefer something classical, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest makes a welcome return to the "stage" in a new adaptation directed by Oliver Parker. It is unlikely that any production of the play has ever boasted such a talented cast. Rupert Everett (An Ideal Husband), Colin Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary), Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde), Frances O'Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence), and Dame Judi Dench (Chocolat) bring to life this witty, literate comedy of manners, romance, and misunderstanding.

However, many critics in both the religious and mainstream press find something lacking in this particular version. The USCCB's critic writes, "The importance of being honest requires advising that The Importance of Being Earnest … is far off the mark. Oscar Wilde's bitingly witty satire of upper-class romantic silliness is reduced to a bland drawing room comedy."

But Eric and Lisa Rice (Movieguide) write, "This movie looks great with beautifully designed costumes and sets. Earnest displays the tangled web of deception and the incredible hardship that it causes. [The actors] all do a marvelous job of keeping this complicated plot going."

Mary Draughon (Preview) does not comment on how this version of the play compares to others. Rather, she gives Earnest a "plus" because it is "absolutely free of foul language, violence and explicit sexual content" but cautions that it "has some slightly sensual material."

Some critics praise it but worry that today's average moviegoer is not educated enough or sophisticated enough to appreciate its subtle achievements. Roger Ebert says, "I yearn for a world in which every drawing room is a stage, and we but players on it. But does anyone these days know what a drawing room is? How can people recognize wit who begin with only a half-measure of it?"

MaryAnn Johanson (Flick Filosopher) says, "It's a sorry commentary on the state of contemporary film that the script for the best-written movie so far this year is more than a century old. It's arrant nonsense, of course, but even this hundred-year-old nonsense is fresher, sillier, more vibrant, more delicious than anything of recent vintage. The point is merely to laugh—a lot—and leave the theater walking on air and feeling that surely silliness will never reach so splendid an apex again."