In an early key scene from “Bright Young Things” (Revolution Films), the impoverished and indebted Adam Fenwick-Symes, on the wisdom of a shady horse-racing tip, casually hands over nearly all his money to an intoxicated stranger.
This act of unforgivable stupidity caused me to stop caring about Adam. I didn’t care if he ended up with his girlfriend, or even if he lived or died, which is unfortunate, since Adam is the film’s hero. The failure of the central character is symbolic of the failure of the movie as a whole. Centered on the title’s shallow, hard-partying junior aristocrats of 1930s London, “Bright Young Things” strives to be a sparklingly witty, old-fashioned satire, but falls exasperatingly short.
Based on Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 satirical novel “Vile Bodies,” the movie deals with a young writer Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore, in his film debut) and his equally bland girlfriend Nina (Emily Mortimer, “Lovely and Amazing”), who plan on tying the knot as soon as they have enough cash to start a life together. They also plan to continue attending one orgiastic party after another with their wealthier pals.
The main plot thread surrounds Adam’s various schemes for earning the dough and getting the girl, while much more interesting subplots involve angst-ridden Simon, cokehead Agatha and flamboyantly gay Miles.
I don’t want to be unfair to “Bright Young Things.” I’ve never read “Vile Bodies,” and the adaptation may very well be right on target. While writer-director Stephen Fry is best known for his impressive acting career, his first attempt at direction is polished and snappily crafted. The movie is devilish fun to look at, and although the script is not deeply flawed, it is peppered with a few too many outlandish coincidences and phrases like “frightful bore.”
Rising British actors Fennella Woolgar and James McAvoy stand out in an impressive cast as Agatha and Simon, who star in the film’s two best scenes. These parts, however, add up to a whole as empty as the lives of beautiful young people are portrayed to be, and the underlying messages of the satire are too obvious and tired to be taken seriously. “Bright Young Things” isn’t a frightful bore, but its greatest crime is that it wants to be so much better than it is.
This article appeared in the September 9, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.