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
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!