Bright Young Things

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Stephen Campbell Moore, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow
Director: Stephen Fry

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is nothing if not reflective of the character of first-time director Stephen Fry. It is bright, appealing, devilishly witty, and has a deceptively decadent veneer which actually houses a consistently moral disposition. Adapted by Fry from Evelyn Waugh’s novel VILE BODIES the film is a depiction of the heady lifestyle enjoyed by the Oxbridge educated social elite in the period between the two World Wars. Flash, brash, and (mostly) full of cash, they were the celebrity party animals of their day. They married a love of popular music, alcohol, and drugs, with an indifferent attitude towards politics and social responsibility, conducting their debauched affairs under the outraged watchful eyes of tabloid newspapers eager to expose the salacious minutiae of privileged bohemian lives. Plus ca change.

The central character, Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore), is one of the more sympathetic and less active adherents to the racy hedonism of his peers. Perennially penniless, his parlous finances are the sole obstacle in his quest to marry his girlfriend Nina (Emily Mortimer). He trails around after her dutifully attending parties and social functions while his various friends and colleagues succumb, in turn, to a variety of misfortunes. In order to arrest his fiscal malaise Adam accepts a position as gossip columnist at one of the daily newspapers that are simultaneously enamoured and indignant of the behaviour of his fast-living coterie. But will this sacrificial move prove sufficient to cement his engagement to the flighty Nina?

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is a vibrant, pacy film; the camera is rarely at rest and most of the set pieces are large, colourful affairs full of characters and incidental detail. There is a rich supporting cast (including Sir John Mills, Peter O’Toole, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow, Dan Ackroyd, Stockard Channing, Richard E Grant, and Julia McKenzie) and the performances are as top-hole as one would expect of such an enterprise. The relatively unknown Campbell Moore is admirably restrained in the central role, and although his Adam is a suitably sympathetic lead character I’m not sure that the audience will particularly care to see him win the affections of Nina, who is probably best left as a selfish, confused, and contrary personification of the era. As it is, the de rigueur rom-com denouement that is tacked on to the book’s original ending may be visually pleasing but it smacks of studio-level compromise and merely increases the discord arising from a hurried and slightly unsatisfying final fifteen minutes. Despite this notable hiccup Fry proves himself to be extremely adept behind the camera and BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS should ensure a keen anticipation of any future directorial projects he undertakes. Until then let us keep our fingers crossed that a more substantial director’s cut awaits on the DVD release of this film.

4 out of 6 stars