Now Playing on Netflix: The Importance of Being Earnest

Posted on 15 September 2010 by ChloeG

Hello everybody.  Chloe G. here, ready to review some of the movies available instantly on Netflix that were either recommended to me, unusual, undervalued, or missed entirely. The point isn’t to get my two cents in on Oscar-nominated flicks, or talk about what everyone else is talking about. The point is to give ideas to those of you out there who appreciate the value of filling a boring Saturday afternoon with a movie that you never considered watching until you started browsing Netflix. I’m open to nominations – anything that needs a spotlight, though I won’t promise to like it, even if you do; otherwise I’ll just make my wandering way through my ever-expanding queue.  Check back next week for more.  And now…

What a Romantic Comedy should Look Like… or <em>The Importance of Being Earnest</em>

My Netflix knows me. It knows that I like Witty TV Shows Featuring a Strong Female Lead, Suspenseful Independent Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Understated Romantic Dramas, Witty Romantic Comedies, and BBC TV Shows Featuring a Strong Female Lead. There seems to be a theme here, looking at that list… Anyway, because my Netflix knows me as well as it does, I’m constantly finding movies I never heard of that are at least enough like the rest of the universe of movies that I love to make them worth watching. The Importance of Being Earnest ticked enough of the boxes to fall on the list of Witty Romantic Comedies, plus it’s British to boot.

I’m going to start by ruining the ending for you. I love this movie. (The end of the review, not the end of the movie. I hate spoilers, not that telling you what happens in the end actually spoils anything about this movie. It wanders too much for specific plot events to be particularly relevant. End parenthetical.) Love it.

Generally (good) romantic comedies – and comedies in general – fall into one of two categories: truly witty, and truly trivial. Earnest manages to mix both, generating some of the most quotable lines since The Princess Bride (another fantastic example of a witty, trivial movie), if only I were British enough to use them.

The formula is this: take a sentence, add a seasoning of irrationally amplified adjectives (perfectly, dreadfully, and exquisitely are favorites), stretch it to meaninglessness, then add a brilliant cast that can cope with not only the shape of the words, but the keeping-a-straight-face part that goes with delivering them. It’s a role Judi Dench was born to play.

Getting down to plot, let’s start with the simple part. Title character Ernest doesn’t actually exist. He’s a creation of Jack Worthing, a wayward younger brother, that Jack uses as an excuse to leave his perfectly serious, exquisitely boring country estate (see how easy it is?) in favor of pursuing pleasure in London. Once in London, he leaves bills unpaid in the name of Ernest, giving him excuse to return at a later date to manage creditors. Unfortunately, he’s in love with the very eligible and excessively reciprocating Gwendolin Fairfax, who has only known him as Ernest, and who could never love him by any other name. (She’s always known she would grow to love a man named Ernest. Ernest is a perfectly wonderful name. It produces vibrations.) Oops.
Stay with me, here. Gwendolin’s cousin Algernon (Algy) is Jack’s best friend and a social reprobate and debtor whom Jack dare not allow to intermingle with his country identity – that’s not who Jack is back home, and Algy would surely have a bad influence on Jack’s young charge, Cecily. Cecily, for her part, is a precocious Reese Witherspoon who is in hot competition with Dame Judi Dench for delivering the most preposterous lines of the movie. Seeing in Ernest an opportunity to meet the excessively beautiful young charge, Algy makes an unannounced arrival at the Worthing estate (by hot air balloon, no less) as the heretofore unseen rogue sibling himself. He falls in love with young Cecily immediately (why not?) and at his proposal, she informs him that the two of them have already been engaged for some three months – he can see the entry in her diary if he would like – even if she did have to write all of his letters herself. (She has had a childhood dream of marring a man named Ernest; it rings of reliability.)

Two women in love with a man named Ernest Worthing, and neither of the men they are in love with actually bear that name. How could this go wrong?

I’ve been told that this is not a movie to watch while under the influence of alcohol. I would add that it is a movie best watched with a remote control with a rewind button on it, or at least a pause. The ‘what did she just say?’ effect doesn’t wear off even through the ending credits, and the cast isn’t about to give you a moment with canned laughter to figure it out. They’ve moved on, and you’ve missed the next three gems by the time you realize that yes, she did just refer to smoking as an occupation, and well, no, I never actually did figure out what the French Revolution had to do with the flower of ignorance. Better yet, plan on watching this one more than once; the wit is stuffed into the details and a very quick script that at a third pass is still yielding new content. The production first opened as a play in 1895 – it’s certainly had time to refine itself.

This movie is available instantly on Netflix, and plays from time to time on standard cable. Find it, get it, watch it. Quaid, this means you.

The metrics:

  • Would I watch this movie opening weekend? I sincerely wish I had. This movie is great, and the world needs more like it.
  • Would I watch this movie on TV? Have done.
  • Would I buy this movie outright? I haven’t gotten there, yet, but as of the time of this review, it’s still certainly a possibility.

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