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I was worried from the moment I heard the opening bars of the intro number. “Sing, Sing, Sing,” the big band classic made so popular by Benny Goodman, is a fine piece of music. But it’s been used in more than its fair share of films and, as an opening, it’s clich.
The same can be said for much of “Bright Young Things.” Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel, “Vile Bodies,” “Things” is the story of an eccentric clique of young lovelies in 1930’s London. They love a good party and, indeed, their presence is a requirement at any such event.
But if their existence sounds shallow, so, too, is this film. Oh, we’re made to believe that there’s some depth to it all as one by one the lovelies self destruct until World War I comes along to end the party for good. We watch Simon Balcairn (James McAvoy, “Wimbledon”) kill himself upon realizing he’s been axed from the A-list and can no longer provide good copy in his Mr. Chatterbox column. Miles, our requisite gay (played by Michael Sheen “The Four Feathers”), is driven from the country upon the discovery by the local authorities of a homoerotic love letter he penned. The most fun of all these to watch is newcomer Fenella Woolgar as Agatha, who parties a little too hardy and ends up institutionalized. None of these downfalls, however, is enough to produce any empathy. In fact, based on the premise you expect no less than this as an outcome, the obvious end result of such over indulgence.
If it appears I’ve given away a good deal of plot, I haven’t even touched on the film’s leading characters, lovebirds Adam Symes and Nina Blount, played by Stephen Campbell Moore (another newcomer) and Emily Mortimer (“Young Adam”). Perhaps it’s merely good ‘ole English restraint, but I failed to see the chemistry between the two.
Rounding out the cast of the film is a hearty hand of heavyweights in assorted cameo roles. Dan Aykroyd is robust as media mogul Lord Monomark; and Peter O’Toole is clever as Nina’s father, Colonel Blount. But not even an appearance by one of my favorites, and perhaps one of the greatest character actresses of all time was enough to convince me to forgive this film its flaws. Still, the delightful Stockard Channing is good for a laugh or two as Mrs. Melrose Ape who “fresh from her salvation tour of Europe” leads her “Angels of the Glad New Day” in a rousing chorus of “Ain’t No Flies (on the Lamb of God).”
“Flies” is about all there is in this film that will give you cause to shout Hallelujah! No, this film, like the “Bright Young Things” it portrays, suffers from an over indulgence of its own. It operates on the inaccurate assumption that just because you’ve told us these people are fabulous we’ll actually care what happens to them. That, sadly, proves not to be the case at all.