Bright Young Things
Opens Fri Sept 17
Essentially ancestors of Club 54, the parties thrown by the "bright young things" (a group of well-heeled, bored socialites) were the talk of 1930s London. Much like their debauched NYC progeny, the balls were extravagant, costumes were outlandish, and cocaine abundant (and here I was, thinking cocaine hadn't been invented until 1971). Not only were the socialites' parties the hottest ticket in town, but they were also the hottest news story; famous for being famous, the media darlings scandalized and fascinated aristocratic London.
At the center of this gang of rabble-rousers are Nina (the cute Emily Mortimer) and Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore), whose engagement is contingent upon Adam's financial solvency. Adam, a writer, is soon hired on as "Mr. Chatterbox," the unknown spy reporter for a local newspaper. Recognizing the influence his coterie has on the public (and the effect that shock value has on newspaper sales), Adam begins fabricating events and fashions at the parties--thus "inadvertently" starting fads, much to his friends' amusement.
This critique on the media's obsession with frivolity (soon, Mr. Chatterbox's tales take precedence over Mussolini as front page news) was likely scathing when Evelyn Waugh wrote his novel Vile Bodies (upon which the film is based) in 1930. Today, it's pretty stale.
That's not to say that Bright Young Things doesn't have a lot going for it: It's certainly easy-on-the-eyes, boasting striking sets and costumes, the parties (though nearing the art direction of a 1990 Madonna video) are enjoyable to watch, and it's well-acted, featuring a bevy of A-list actors (most memorably Stockard Channing as an American evangelist choir-leader). Bright Young Things is, at it's core, a ridiculous, light-hearted film, and it's at its best when it is just that.
But then it does exactly what it shouldn't--it slips into melodrama and self-reflection. When director Stephen Fry took liberties with Waugh's novel by making the ending "happy," he unfortunately chucked Waugh's lack of moralizing as well. In a movie about bored socialites eagerly awaiting the newest innovation, Bright Young Things leaves the audience feeling the exact same way.