Stephen Fry is a great British wit. As a TV actor, he was wonderfully obtuse and overbearing on Black Adder. As an author he was sly, funny, and naughty in The Hippopotamus. Now, as a director, he’s witty and gay.
R for drugs, language, adult themes, probably
Set in 1930s London and based on Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things shows the lives of the haughty, naughty, faux-bohemian players of the social game. At fancy-dress balls they drink, they dance, they snuff cocaine; they gossip with homosexuals and deposed kings. They carefully avoid and voraciously read the society columnist whose secret identity isn’t much of a secret to them.
Weaving through the movie is the thread of a plot: Boy (fresh-faced newcomer Stephen Campbell Moore) meets girl (Emily Mortimer). Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl over money. But the movie isn’t about the plot; it’s about the social games these bright young things play. And as out-of-touch with modern America as that may seem, it’s all kind of fun, all this decadence, not because it’s a vicarious thrill, but because these people are so good at witty gossip and cutting insults.
One character neatly summed up their lives when she compared them to a car race. They go round and round in bright, flashy colors, faster and faster, but they never get anywhere. Like the car race, the movie ends in a crash and an explosion. In the final act, the bright young things grow duller and older. War breaks out. The futility of their lives and goals becomes apparent, and the movie seems to say “it’s time to grow up.”
Not only is this ending a downer, it dilutes the film. If the movie is supposed to be about the vacuous fun of socialites, why not let it be fun? On the other hand, if the message is that a jazz-n-gin lifestyle can’t end well, then perhaps the second act shouldn’t have been so much fun in the first place. Whichever message was intended, the other half of the movie negated it. Add a number to its negative and you end up with zero.
Arriving at that zero can be a lot of fun, as it is in Bright Young Things. The characters are a joy to watch and the actors look like they’re having a blast.
Movies can do so much more than entertain, but if that’s all you’re looking for, you could do worse than Bright Young Things.