The Importance of Being Earnest

Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench. Directed by Oliver Parker. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 97 minutes. 2002. Buena Vista Home Video 28086. PG. $29.99.

As the play's subtitle says, The Importance of Being Earnest is "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People." It's full of wit and satire; the viewer must play close attention or risk missing uncountable witticisms. This latest film version is director Oliver Parker's take on the play, which debuted in 1895.

In Earnest Everett plays Algernon Moncrieff, or Algy, a wealthy, irresponsible, somewhat bored London gentleman. Colin Firth is Jack Worthing, a seemingly serious man who resides in the country. But Jack's serious side vanishes when he steals away to London to visit his imaginary brother, Earnest. While in town, Jack changes his identity to Earnest Worthing, behaves recklessly, and befriends people such as Algy. Jack's identity switch catches up with him when he decides to propose to Algy's cousin, Gwendolyn (Frances O'Connor), who knows him only as Earnest.

Jack encounters three obstacles: Gwendolyn's stalwart mother, Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), Gwendolyn's confessed adoration of the name Earnest, and Algy's curiosity about Jack's young ward, Cecily Cardew (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman looking for adventure. Algy decides to take on the identity of Earnest to steal away to the country to meet Cecily. If you're confused, don't worry—just watch and enjoy.

The sound is surprisingly good, and the mixer took advantage of the rear surrounds. An arrow zooming by, crowd noise, and music are all heard in the surrounds. The picture is clear and bright, accurately rendering the sunny English countryside and the aristocratic homes.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a fine, fun film, yet it reminds me of a frothy cappuccino. Perhaps the cast and crew make it look too easy. Parker's additional scenes, which have been criticized by some Wilde fans, are silly but fresh, and Wilde would probably want us to loosen up and have fun. This film isn't as good as a live performance, but it still hits the spot.—HL