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A Good Woman (2004)

A Good Woman. Feature film. (2004, 93 mins) IMDB

...Adapting a play for film is never an easy task...

O

ne has to wonder how, in adapting a play to film, they can change locations (England to Italy), centuries (1890's to 1930's), nationalities (British to US) and heros (Lady Windermere to Mrs. Erlynne) and expect it to resonant as the play does. It can happen, but not with A Good Woman--a 2006 feature film starring Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson.

I almost believe the brain trust behind the film saw A Month by the Lake with Venessa Redgrave and wanted a similar movie. They thought about it and came up with Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan instead of an original story.

It's based on the play, but they shouldn't have bothered.

The play addresses two issues: satirizing the British upper class and illustrating the manner in which most humans jump to conclusions often to their own detriment.

But how do you satirize the British upper class when the film is set in Italy with Americans as the central characters? You don't. You cast big US stars so film distributors will show the movie.

The play is brilliantly structured to create tension, suspense and insight, and is focused on Lady Windermere—hence the title. There is no Lady Windermere in the film version. She's Mrs. Windermere and she's been dropped to play a lesser role as the film focuses on Mrs. Erlynne. I suspect Helen Hunt and her agent had more influence on creating the screenplay. Young Scarlett is still learning the biz.

And Lady Windermere's fan, such a crucial prop in the play, has little meaning in the film.

Then there are Oscar Wilde's famous quotes, several come from this play including:

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

but it's not in the film.

It's a shame. These issues dramatized so well in the play are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago, but you wouldn't know it from this film.

Posted 2007/06/24 at 20h03ET in Movie Commentary.

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