Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Good Woman

A wet teabag of a movie, A Good Woman reworks Oscar Wilde's Lady Windemere's Fan as a jazz-age drama set in the sun-drenched Italian town of Amalfi. Sort of. Howard Himelstein's script mostly consists of the dull, move-the-action-along dialogue usually heard on the Lifetime network. Then, when the plot allows for it—which doesn't happen often enough—the movie shifts into Wilde mode, and the characters start trading priceless bon mots. They're jewels carelessly mounted in a movie that worries more about the costumes and sets than what the characters within them feel.


A fatal bit of miscasting doesn't help either. Scarlett Johansson is typically good as a naïve young newlywed forced to learn how easily suspicion spoils a happy marriage. But as Johansson's apparent rival, Helen Hunt looks embarrassingly out of place trying to play an infamous seductress. It isn't that Hunt is unattractive, it's just that here, her every gesture, expression, and inflection suggests a kindly aunt more than a femme fatale. She brings to mind doilies and ginger snaps more readily than brandy and longing looks. Nonetheless, the plot revolves around all the chatty Amalfi types thinking Hunt has stolen Johansson's husband (Mark Umbers). Meanwhile, Umbers' bon vivant family friend (Stephen Campbell Moore) puts the moves on Johansson, attempting to seduce her with witty words, long walks on the beach, and freshly cooked shellfish.

Tom Wilkinson has some nice moments as Hunt's would-be suitor, a man who's learned the value of not expecting women to be any more moral than men. But he's virtually alone in conveying any kind of depth. The trick to staging Wilde is to hint at the gravity beneath the witticisms. A Good Woman barely even gets the witticisms out, though it does contain Wilde's line about people being either tedious or charming. If the same is true of movies, there's no question on which side this one falls.