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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Oliver Parker
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Minnie Driver, Peter Vaughan, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, and Rupert Everett

Shame on Miramax for releasing An Ideal Husband during the high-octane, testosterone-laden, blockbuster days of summer. Didn't the suits in charge know that moviegoers would unjustly bypass this terrific charmer for the likes of the $20 million dollar men -- Adam Sandler, Will Smith, and those crude youngsters from South Park? Not only will writer/director Oliver Parker's film, which is based on Oscar Wilde's play, not make a dime at the almighty domestic box office, but since the film was released during the hot summer days of June and Academy members have long-term memory loss, the film will most definitely go by the wayside. Rupert Everett, who was unjustly overlooked in the "Best Supporting Actor" category for My Best Friend's Wedding, will (once again) be a distant memory when the nominations for the golden statue are announced next February.

After leaving my local theater at the end of the film's closing credits, the only place that I could think of going was to my local Friendlys. The reason for this was easy-the film reminded me of a sinfully large piece of strawberry cheesecake. With its exquisite look, terrific acting, and delicious dialogue, I enjoyed every scrumptious minute of it from start to finish. Parker (Othello) magically blended the elegance of Elizabeth, the enthusiasm of Shakespeare in Love, with the calculating and ruthless manipulating of Dangerous Liaisons to form a winning adaptation of playwright Wilde's original production.

I can't see why anyone wouldn't adore this film (period piece or not). It's got all the juicy tidbits that existed in the now retired Melrose Place: scandals, extortion, skeletons in the closest, and political no-nos. What's not to love? Although the film takes place in London near the end of the 19th century, it's scary to see how easily it could've been a modern-day, front-page cover story for one of the tabloid rags.

The "morality" issues involve the film's headliner-Sir Robert Chiltern (solid ensemble player Jeremy Northam), a respected member of Parliament, who is not only adored by his loving wife, Lady Gertrude (the here-to-stay Cate Blanchett), but is also esteemed by all of his peers. Although Gertrude is involved in a feminist movement and has a mind and voice of her own, it's easy to see why she's putty in Robert's hands -- he's the kind of guy you trust and you don't think twice about. Robert seems to have everything going for him: he's not only got a beautiful and loving wife, but he's a growing player and rising star in the political arena. That is, until Mrs. Laura Cheveley (a priceless Julianne Moore from Boogie Nights) pays a visit from Vienna.

It seems that our dear Mrs. Cheveley has more on her mind than idle chitchat with London's high society and high-priced window shopping. This striking black widow has come with an agenda -- blackmail our hero. Although Chiltern is London's most honorable man, he was not always this way. Now he must either do as Mrs. Cheveley says or she will expose him to the world as a fraud.

Of course, since his wife hangs on his every word, he doesn't have the heart to crush her. Instead, he turns to his bosom buddy Lord Goring (a perfectly cast Everett), a ridiculously spoiled playboy, who's easily London's most eligible bachelor. He asks his best friend to try to break this news (and somehow soften the blow) of his less-than-honest past to Gertrude. Of course, everything boils down to what our hero will ultimately do and say before a packed house of legal honchos. Will he hold his head up high and tell the truth and lose everything he has, or will he hold back and try to save everything he's worked for?

Like this summer's other period piece offering, A Midsummer Night's Dream (another hidden jewel also starring Everett), An Ideal Husband is user friendly. While it respects the original material on which it is based, it doesn't ever go over your head, and you'll get a kick out of it as well.

Although the costumes and set designs did not reach Merchant-Ivory standards, they were still noteworthy. Besides, like Everett's Midsummer, they were meant to lend support to the film and not overtake it. And not only does the film have some memorable dialogue and precious one-liners, but there's enough juicy, calculating twists and turns going on here that you'll likely resemble a pretzel by film's end. All in all, the director successfully infused brilliant bits of comedy with some (believe it or not?) dramatic moments that will not only make you think but chuckle as you remain on the edge of your seat -- never squirming to find the right placement in your theater chair.

Even though Parker did a great job delivering a feast for the eyes and ears, he needed a talented cast to pull it all off and this is the area where he deserves the most credit as the film's solid ensemble casting made it the winner it is.

Jeremy Northam lends credibility to the film's principal player Sir Robert Chiltern, a man who has an incredibly difficult decision to make. A difficult role that Northam handled well, although he is not the reason why you'll remember this film. That honor belongs to Everett, who manages to steal every scene he's in -- and that's a feat in itself especially since his leading ladies, Driver, Moore, and Blanchett, are all terrific.

Driver continues to show audiences why she is one of Hollywood's most popular young actresses. All of her scenes with Everett were picture-perfect. She actually managed to hold her own when the two traded witty barbs at each other's expense. Driver continues to show us her range. She can handle comedy as easily as she can serious material.

Julianne Moore was equally impressive as were her moments with Everett. You can really tell that she was having a ball with this mischievous character. As the part-man eater, part-ambulance chaser, Moore made the most of her role and we all thank her for it.

Cate Blanchett (who gave me whiplash from her Oscar deserving work in Elizabeth to her perfect Long Island accent in the recent Pushing Tin) makes me like her more and more every time I see her. I really don't think that there's any role out there that she can't handle and the scary thing is that she hasn't even been around the Tinseltown scene for that long!

Despite all the wonderful work turned in by these three gifted actresses, those who are fortunate enough to see this film will remember it for the slick work turned in by Everett. Here's a grown-up rich kid who loves all women and doesn't like to tackle any serious subjects. He's the type of guy who'll actually tell you up front that he'd rather talk about nothing-and he will. He may love the opposite sex like no other, but he loves himself even more and we love him for it! The exchanges with his butler Phipps (Peter Vaughan), for example, on the topic of style are classic, but then again, his exchanges with just about anyone in the film are worth the price of admission.

Oliver Parker covered all the bases in trying to deliver a film that will connect with audiences. A period piece that's easy to follow and a whole lot of fun? What more can we ask for? Throw in a sharp supply of wit and some flawless acting, and you have a great alternative to the never-ending cycle of over-hyped and overpriced blockbusters. Do yourself a favor and don't let this one slip by the cracks!

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