Bright Young Things’ shows being privileged is always in style

By By Aaron Allen

By Aaron Allen

“Bright Young Things”Icon FilmsDirected by Stephen FryStarring Emily Mortimer, Stephen Campbell Moore, James McAvoy and Michael SheenRated R for some drug use106 minutes

Four out of five stars

War sure does have a nasty habit of breaking up perfectly good parties.

Maybe Kate Beckinsale put it best with her infamous “and then all this happened” line from “Pearl Harbor.” And to substantiate her claim, we now have “Bright Young Things,” British actor Stephen Fry’s whimsical writing/directing debut.

In the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel, “Vile Bodies,” it’s party, party, party night after night, for the pretty, hedonistic youth in post-World War I England. Until, of course, World War II breaks out and then… oh, but Kate can tell you the rest.

Flashbulbs pop and members of the paparazzi cluster as the bright, young things arrive at their latest party, relinquishing their valuable invitations and entering a party not unlike some hot, steamy burlesque from the devilish corners of Baz Luhrmann’s brain.

It’s a game of who-cares-less-than-whom as Nina (Emily Mortimer) dances with the exuberantly effeminate Miles (Michael Sheen)-the energy is high, the art direction is set to 11, and Nina shouts to Miles, “I’m so bored!”

Meanwhile, Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore) has just returned from England after writing a book about himself and his pretty, hedonistic friends. Publishing maven Lord Monomark (Dan Aykroyd at his tough guy, Joe Friday best) has given Adam a 1,000-pound advance-money that Adam plans to use to wed Nina, his long-time sweetheart.

But Adam is not a lucky man.

His manuscript is confiscated at customs, he’s out 1,000 pounds to Lord Monomark, and Nina doesn’t sound altogether thrilled with the news-sure, she’d love to curl up on Adam’s lap, but the lap of luxury is far more attractive.

Adam does spend the rest of the film having the money, and then losing it, then having it again…then losing it again. Nina’s feelings flip-flop to the point where her eyes start wandering to a rich, childhood friend who has come back into her life. Bad news for Adam.

Sounds like a pretty petty Shakespearean play, right? Filmmaker Fry finds the right pace between zany and relaxed, which feels appropriate-like its callow partygoers, “Bright Young Things” affably wanders from scene to scene, introducing us to a parade of eccentric, nasty, selfish, clueless, funny characters.

Jim Broadbent (himself from the hot, steamy burlesque of Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”) is delightfully incomprehensible as the Drunk Major, with whom Adam entrusts his 1,000 pounds at one point to bet on a horse. The Major disappears and reappears at the oddest times, sometimes remembering his debt, sometimes too intoxicated to recognize Adam. And, expectedly, Peter O’Toole is a hoot as the daffy Col. Blount, Nina’s father, who lives among crooked stacks of books, yapping dogs and writes checks signed “Charlie Chaplin.”

Adam is our tour guide through all this madness, so it’s understandable that he and his romantic troubles are sympathetic but a little bland- he’s our entry portal, the straight man to the craziness around him. One also wonders if the film glosses over the uglier details of Waugh’s novel-with a name like “Vile Bodies,” Fry seems to have brought a playful feel to the proceedings. Fry’s characters are only a few generations apart from the drug-sniffing, party-hopping amoral vacuous teenagers in the novels of Bret Easton Ellis-look no further than “Less Than Zero” and you’ll find some real “vile bodies.”

Still, “Bright Young Things” goes down easy-it’s fluffy and candy-colored and consistently entertaining, even if the subject matter it attends to may have deserved something a little heavier.

By the end of the film, it’s clear such lives of debauchery couldn’t go on forever, so perhaps it’s a good thing World War II-much like the credits at the end of the film-came pounding on the door like an angry landlord and crashed the party. Just in time.

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