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Anyone for a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Bright Young Things
(R, 105 min.)
Village Square

Thursday, September 23, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Bright Young Things

Party hard: Bright Young Things plumbs shallows of decadence

By Anthony Del Valle

Writer/director Stephen Fry, with a little help from Evelyn Waugh's 1930's novel Vile Bodies, has created a sometimes-brilliant update of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House in his Bright Young Things. Once again we're witness to those spoiled, young British slackers between World Wars, and for a while, Fry, like Waugh and Shaw, seems to be suggesting that the world would be better if we burnt it all down and started over. But there's a twist of an ending (not in Waugh's book) that suggests there might be hope for England (and the world) after all. It's a sentimental, upbeat finale, but earned, and somehow right; even if it is likely that Waugh and Shaw would be horrified.

Fry opens with one of those extravagant, meaningless parties that the rich, shallow and asexual are known for. But instead of feeling we've already been here, Fry's unique camera angles and visual decor--every party (and there are lots of them) seems to have its own color scheme--make us eager to embrace the action. The story unfolds through the eyes of two penniless social climbers (played by the man-in-a-boy's-body Stephen Campbell Moore and the delicate Emily Mortimer), who keep getting engaged and disengaged according to the latest report on their finances. Memorable characters come and go so often and so frantically that you wonder if World War II might have merely been the explosion of England's fast pulse.

You never get the sense of a novel being played out. Fry salutes Waugh, but he never mimics him. The skilled acting by a slew of veterans--from Peter O'Toole to Dan Aykroyd--is matched by the work of maybe half a dozen young newcomers who deserve major careers.

But it's Fry's visceral understanding of the lure of decadence, and the people who suffer under it while smiling, dancing and drinking, that makes this a great little film. He may be the director who could finally do The Great Gatsby cinematic justice.

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