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Review: A Good Woman

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A Play About a Good Woman was the original subtitle of Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan, and Mike Barker’s film adaptation, in resurrecting it, also wants to resurrect the story’s central question of virtue and forgiveness. Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt, in her first film role in something like five years), a scandal-plagued mistress and gold digger, sets her sights on an American couple, Meg and Robert Windermere (Scarlett Johansson and Mark Umbers) vacationing on the Amalfi coast. Erlynne’s suspicious friendship — is she seducing him? — with the seemingly virtuous Robert prompts Meg to reconsider her fidelity to her husband. Luckily, debonair ladies’ man Lord Darlington (a terrific Stephen Campbell Moore) is there to pick up the slack. Of course, it soon becomes obvious that nothing is as it seems.
    By changing the setting from London to the Amalfi coast (and the central characters from Brits to Americans), Barker opens up the story effectively. But he also loses something — now a prettified portrait of innocents abroad, the film forsakes the concentrated clinical vacuum of Wilde’s original piece. That’s not the only way A Good Woman dulls the legendary playwright’s exacting edge. I’ll speak no further about the story’s grand revelations, but Wilde may well have been asking whether it was Mrs. Windermere or Mrs. Erlynne who was the good woman of his subtitle. Barker’s film, on the other hand, already knows the answer: The focus here is Hunt, who plays the character of Erlynne as such a goody two-shoes that it’s well-nigh impossible to believe she ever seduced so many men, let alone bribed them. As reconceived by this mildly entertaining but forgettable film, the moral ambiguity of Wilde’s story is reduced to a mere case of airy misunderstanding, flaccid and outdated even by Victorian standards. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Who Gets To Call It Art?
Though the titular question suggests a film about the uncertainty of what is art, Peter Rosen’s documentary on legendary connoisseur Henry Geldzahler actually has a pretty darn good idea. A better title might have been He Gets to Call It Art: Rosen’s fleet-footed portrait of Geldzahler focuses on his youthful championing of people such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, David Hockney and others as the first curator of contemporary art at the stodgy Metropolitan Museum of Art of the ’60s and ’70s. Though the subject passed away in 1994, he left behind enough audio recordings and archival footage (and even, as it turns out, answering machine messages) to power an entire feature film filtered through his consciousness. The late Geldzahler is definitely our guide here, and that’s a testament to Rosen’s filmmaking, since Who Gets to Call it Art? is also chock full of talking head interviews with lions like Hockney, Larry Poons, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly.
    And true to Geldzahler’s vision, Art is full of, well, art. Rosen’s brisk montages of great works of late-twentieth-century painting and sculpture, as well as mile-a-minute archival glimpses of the likes of Warhol at work and play, give the effect of encyclopedic thoroughness. Albeit a somewhat illusory one — blink, and you’ll miss a movement or two. Still, that’s a small price to pay for entertainment value. The film’s confident rifling through of so many great works results is a phenomenon much like pop art itself: Not always enlightening, but a whole lot of fun to look at. — Bilge Ebiri
Date DVD: In Her Shoes
If you’re a guy and the last six films you rented for dates starred Vin Diesel, The Rock or a CGI robot, it’s time to make amends. To prove you’re not incapable of human feeling and completely insensitive, rent the chick flick In Her Shoes, a melodrama so good even fans of Hostel will like it (well, they might). Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, L.A. Confidential) directs, which should allay some concerns, and Cameron Diaz wears skimpy bikinis and has sex in a bathroom stall, which should allay the rest. Diaz plays the wild child who can’t stop being an insecure slut; Toni Collette plays the responsible elder who can’t seem to get laid. They work well together, and it reminds you that Diaz can actually function as an actress when she’s not stretching her range. And even when the sister melodrama simmers up and starts to boil, well, there’s Shirley Maclaine to spit out crass one-liners like “Let me put on a pot of bourbon.” Yes, it’s all very familiar, but it’s told so fluently, and with so many punchlines that it’s one of the best melodramas in years — and, more importantly, one of the most tolerable for guys burned by junk like The Wedding Date. Guys, if you’re ever going to atone for forcing your date to watch Saw and Saw II, now’s the time to bite the bullet. You won’t find a better chick flick. — Logan Hill

   

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