The House of Mirth is certainly that--a rock-solid edifice of laughs built upon the foundations that make all great comedy. Painful physical humor, insults like "nut head" and "rat brain," even a scene of mistaken gender identity--this one's got it all. If you value humor, drop this paper now and run, don't walk, to the nearest theater showing The House of Mirth, and pony up your hard-earned dough.

Okay, now that we've gotten rid of the knuckleheads who slept through 11th-grade English, here's the real deal. The House of Mirth, based on the novel by Edith Wharton (duh!) charts the social and psychological descent of one Lily Bart, from the highest echelons of 1905 New York society to, well, you'll have to see the movie (or read the book).

The film is directed by Terence Davies, a Brit best known for his autobiographical tales of growing up in a working-class environment, The Long Day Closes and Distant Voices, Still Lives. His reputation as a meticulous, almost pre-modern artist is well-deserved, yet the stiff and frequently gloomy material in Mirth is filmed with a grace and beauty that almost no other filmmaker working today could accomplish. The photography is excellent without being self-indulgent, and the costumes are splendidly decadent (turn-of-the-century New York must be the utter pinnacle of millinery in human history).

The House of Mirth has gained the most attention from the casting of Gillian Anderson, Special Agent Dana Scully from The X-Files (duh!), in the lead role. Lily Bart is one of the more complex and tragic female characters in American literature, and Anderson's performance makes it tough not to resort to tired terms like "revelation" (see, I couldn't resist). Even those familiar with her abilities as the alien-busting, autopsy-performing redhead on Sunday nights will be amazed at the convincing job she does here. To overcome her face recognition in such a wildly different milieu demonstrates enough talent that Anderson shouldn't worry too much if the paranormal gravy train ceases to stop at her station. While Duchovny turns up his nose to forage around in stuff like Return to Me and Playing God, his erstwhile partner is the one with the future.

The cast that surrounds Anderson also excels, from Laura Linney and Anthony LaPaglia all the way to Dan Aykroyd (surprisingly good) and Eric Stoltz (actually, a bit less so). Hopefully, the box office bucks spent by those yahoos who read only the first paragraph of this review will help support this type of quality filmmaking--if not, at least they'll get to see Eric Stoltz's ass. Hah! Gotcha again!