Friday, December 25, 2009

Bright Young Things

Merry Christmas to all. Now, were this a project with which I had more than a passing influence in the films discussed, this would be a time to bring out some Christmas film. Alas, that is not the case, and true to the random word in the title, the film today really has nothing at all to do with Christmas. What it does have, however, is a quite interesting chap named Stephen Fry, and his directorial debut Bright Young Things.

This begins as a joyously absurd and lightly dark comedy, focusing on Stephen Campbell Moore as Adam, a young writer who wants nothing more than to be married to Nina (Emily Mortimer). Unfortunately, in the process he loses the book he's writing, and each time he runs into a bit of good fortune it's cruelly snatched away by circumstance. He hangs around high society folk like Agatha (Fenella Woodgar) and Miles (Michael Sheen). In the beginning, it is all gaudy spectacle, which gradually gets stripped away as the film progresses and gets steadily more serious.

It's an interesting twist in tone that the film has. The beginning is all splendid superficiality, going through rather beautifully shot parties and keeping the story grounded in money concerns and increasingly farcical ways of losing that money. The characters are silly, for the most part, but an endearing silly, and if they do excessive amounts of drugs and party too much, that's really quite fine. They're not really deep people, but they are endearing, which is vital for the film to maintain its interest as the tone gradually becomes more serious. As the tone changes the characters steadily shows the layers of their personality it feels like looking in on new friends as they reveal their personality.

It's a sublimely chaotic film, which nicely captures the feel of non-stop partying and copious drug use. It is a little absurd, but a good party always is, and it's fun to follow the characters and events as they drift around and with each other. It can be read as a critique on our current obsession with fame and glory, but in the process it humanizes the famous. It does have some odd tonal shifts - especially since the primary storyline rests on some odd absurdities - but it seems completely natural in context, and is frequently very funny.

Another odd thing is that it manages to have every single British actor in a minor role. Perhaps this is a symptom of everyone in the world liking Stephen Fry, but it is quite bizarre that a nation of performers have showed up for a line or two. Surrounded by the immense talent, Fenella Woodgar and Stephen Campbell Moore manage to hold their own in their first feature. Moore in particular carries the put upon Adam with an air of confidence, even as things go badly for him. One never gets the sense of him giving up, no matter how badly things are going.

It's an interesting case where it one gets absorbed through fun and begins to care more as the film becomes more serious. It's really like friendship overall in the end, people hanging out at first in good times and beginning to care as things get more serious and less lighthearted. Fry manages to make a film that's breezy and compelling, and in the end quite fun to watch for the most part. Yes, things get quite deadly serious, and having the spectacle stripped away leads to a rather interesting moral in the final scene, but as a whole, it's a nice place to spend time, and a decidedly enjoyable thing to watch. I'm not sure why Fry hasn't made more films, but I'd like to see him do it again, he knows what he's doing, and how to make something splitting between comedy and sadness seem completely natural. Perhaps a Christmas gift for next year?

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