Vanity Fair movie poster
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Vanity Fair movie poster

Vanity Fair Movie Review

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Reese Witherspoon stars as Becky Sharp, the William Thackery heroine who aspires to ascend class boundaries in 19th century England. Directed by Mira Nair, the director of Monsoon Wedding, this latest retelling of Vanity Fair is a beautiful film that never completely comes together, but is entertaining nonetheless.

Based on Thackery's novel, of which I have never read, this 2004 version of Vanity Fair is only one of many adaptations, the latest since the original in 1911. I haven't seen any of those, either. Regardless, the story is a complicated and fragile one about a woman who grudgingly climbs her way up the social ladder in a time when it was very difficult to do so. Through marriage and at times downright manipulation, Becky Sharp strives to be respected among the best of classes, but as difficult as it is to rise in 19th century England, it is even easier to fall from grace.

Nair directs Vanity Fair beautifully; the atmosphere sucks the audience right into the setting, whether it be a mud-filled street with drunk bums and prostitutes to glamorous balls fit for a King. The entire movie is elegant and flows with ease.

Nair, an Indian director, definitely injects her own tastes into the film at times, namely Indian dancing and a few scenes in India itself. This is acceptable since India was a part of Britain's empire at the time, but Nair does go overboard a few times, especially with one dance scene that has Witherspoon dressed up in rather revealing fare while she moves sexually to Indian music. If Becky (Witherspoon) is so concerned about appealing to the upper class, why would she do something that is so "filthy" for that time? The scene really didn't make any sense, other than that Nair wanted to show off some Indian culture in a film that should be all about British culture. If she does take the job to do the next Harry Potter, I wonder if we're going to see some Indian flavor inside the walls of Hogwarts?

Aside from an over abundance of Indian culture, Vanity Fair also suffers from a fairly long running time. The first hour is extremely entertaining and quite funny at times, but the movie, ranging in at almost two hours and 20 minutes, feels about half an hour too long. There are so many storylines in the movie that things become cluttered occasionally, and confusing - it is hard to keep track of who is who. Had a few of these subplots been removed, the movie would have been shorter and easier to follow.

Nevertheless, Vanity Fair looks nice, has a good script and features some good acting. Witherspoon is terrific in the lead, a great female character with a lust for power. The supporting cast also does a good job, though no one person stands out among the rest.

Vanity Fair is a fun drama that perhaps is a bit too long. It isn't powerful enough to rank among the year's best, but for fans of the book and of period pieces in general, it has more than enough to offer.

DVD Review

Vanity Fair comes to DVD this Tuesday, providing a couple small features and deleted scenes. While lost in the post-summer rush, "Vanity Fair" is a decent and subtle film that could find a following in stores. The DVD itself is not very interesting, however.

"Welcome to Vanity Fair" is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the movie, but it's pretty boring and fairly promotional. Though there are a few interesting moments, the majority of it isn't very informative. The same goes for "The Women Behind Vanity Fair," which explores the coincidence that most of the people behind the camera were women. Though feminists might find the concept intriguing, the feature really has little to offer. The deleted scenes are also pretty disappointing, as most of them are merely small snippets removed from the movie. It's hard to tell at what point they were removed from, and no commentary is provided. An alternate ending is the only substantial and quality deleted scene of the bunch.

However, a feature-length commentary is provided by director Mira Nair.

"Vanity Fair" is an okay movie that's well worth a rental, but the DVD does nothing to make the movie worth buying.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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