by Laura Kyle
Based on the William Thackeray novel, VANITY FAIR hardly stars Reese Witherspoon as the film's cold heroine, but rather the early 19th Century, as seen through the keen eyes of director Mira Nair.Witherspoon is Becky Sharp, a woman determined to break into the socialite club of English Nobility, despite the fact that she comes from a poor background. With her beauty, wit, and lovely singing voice, she manages to charm her way up the social ladder. Her best friend, Amelia (played by Romola Garai), while just as enraptured in vain dreams, idolizing a solider husband who has no love for her, is a far weaker character, shedding light on Becky's intense independence and ambition. Witherspoon gives Becky a mischievous and likeable quality that is absolutely necessary for the audience to invest in her, and still comes off as a detached, fiercely autonomous individual who will do anything to get what she wants, even sacrifice love. Sadly though, Witherspoon falls somewhat short of grasping Becky's entire essence, failing to show any vulnerability. Not to mention, to no fault of her own, the fact that her pregnant belly could not be completely hidden when it was supposed to be, certainly took away from her credibility.
"Red hair dye does not mean Reese isn't still legally, blond."
While Vanity Fair is often captivating, it is a noticeably long picture, with a whopping running time of about two and a half hours. Suffice it to say, if you take a bathroom break, you won't be lost as to what is going on upon your return. Tack on the fact that the film is a relatively subdued character driven tale of well, vanity, and is so underscored with reality, it is hard to get incredibly excited while watching it.
However, Vanity Fair is clever and often funny, with colorful characters and scenery, vibrant costumes that will probably give the film an Oscar nod, a strong music score, excellent cinematography, and a timeless theme that is all too relevant for today. For this, a tedious pace can be forgiven. Perhaps if Nair had not been so distracted by the grandness of Thackery's plot and players or the historical context of it all, she could have focused more on Becky as the film's centerpiece (even though it has been said her interpretation of Thackeray's Becky was overly sympathetic), creating a more interesting drama requiring less patience from the movie-goer.
However, those who found quiet and intelligent films like Girl with a Pearl Earring to be satisfying, will probably appreciate Vanity Fair's reliance on the historical time period, as well as underplayed acting.
One of the more upbeat performances is given by Eileen Atkins, playing a high society elder, who is one of the first to notice Becky's rare street smarts and potential. However, as the movie later demonstrates, all the intelligence, talent, and manners in the world scarcely compensate for a lack of pedigree or wealth. This idea is essentially the core of Vanity Fair, but still the film plays primarily as a period piece, because that is where Nair's strengths as a filmmaker lie.Witherspoon subtly blends into the background of early 1800's Society and Nobility in London. Although her acting is bold and generally effective, it is truly the era and the cast as a whole, that defines VANITY FAIR.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10663&reviewer=369
originally posted: 09/11/04 12:43:13