A GOOD WOMAN (Mike Barker). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (February 17). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NN
A Good Woman is a textbook example of how not to adapt an Oscar Wilde play - in this instance, Lady Windermere's Fan.
First, move the setting from 1890s England to the Italian coast in the 1930s, so the protagonist, now Mrs. Windermere ( Scarlett Johansson ), seems improbably priggish after the decadent 20s. Though her moral outrage comes off as anachronistic, the gain is sexier fashions.
Second, open the play up. Wilde's plays are masterpieces of elegant construction and completely artificial. Letting real air in is invariably fatal, as in Oliver Parker's 2002 adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest. You don't have to break the Fabergé eggs to make this omelette.
Third, miscast the central roles with inapt American actors. Helen Hunt as the adventuress Mrs. Erlynne and Johansson are talented, but they're simply wrong here. Not everyone can drop Wildean zingers.
Fourth, assume the audience is stupid. The film opens with a title -- New York, 1930. Mrs. Erlynne's on an ocean liner, musing in the film's only voice-over on the availability of rich men on the Italian coast. Then there's a shot of a white stucco seaside village and a title, The Amalfi Coast, 1930, just in case we thought she'd leapt forward in time or decided to go to Georgia's Sea Islands.
On the up side, there are nice Italian locations, costume designer John Bloomfield really knows how to dress Johansson, and Tom Wilkinson gives a lovely performance.