Based on an Evelyn Waugh novel from the 30's ("Vile Bodies"), "Bright Young Things" is the directorial debut of writer/director Stephen Fry, himself an occasional actor ("Cold Comfort Farm", "Gosford Park" and others). The film focuses on Adam Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), a promising young writer who lacks the money to advance in life and, more importantly, to marry Nina (Emily Mortimer), who sees money and marriage as a package deal. She loves Adam, but she also wants to live in the style that she's become accustomed to.
Meanwhile, Adam can't catch a break, and the film has the young man trying to make something of his work in order to make something of his relationship with Nina. At one point, his manuscript is even seized. Yet, his publisher (Dan Aykroyd) finally comes through with a job as a gossip columnist - and there's certainly enough parties to cover, as the high society group that Adam travels in are constantly throwing bigger and more luxurious gatherings. While the film's adventures through high society is charming and amusing enough to gather a few laughs, director Fry switches the tone in the second half as the war begins.
This is a beautiful-looking film, with superior production design and elegant cinematography that makes strong use of color. The rest of the film is a bit of a mixed bag, but it works pretty well. There are a lot of characters in this film, and writer/director Fry manages to follow and develop nearly all of them pretty well.
The performances are generally very good, although there are a couple that come up rather short. Mortimer is the negative here; while I've liked her in other roles, I never quite got what was so compelling about the character that Adam would work so hard to want to marry her. The two actors have decent chemistry, but Mortimer just doesn't have the energy and sparkle the role requires. Moore, on the other hand, is quite good. Despite the fact that I never quite bought his attraction to Nina, the performance is sympathetic and engaging - I wanted him to succeed in his task of rounding up enough cash. Dan Ackroyd and Jim Broadbent (among others) offer fine supporting efforts.
The film's more dramatic and grounded last third doesn't fit with the feel of the rest of the film and the pacing does suffer a tad as a result. Otherwise, this is a generally well-done (if not particularly memorable - I liked the film, but can already feel it not sticking with me) film.
VIDEO: "Bright Young Things" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality isn't quite perfect, but it's another fine transfer from New Line. The film starts with the characters bathed in a heavy red tone, yet the color remains solid in a scene that could have easily looked very messy. Colors are nicely presented throughout the remainder, looking crisp and well-saturated, with no smearing.
Sharpness and detail were fine throughout the show, as the image looked crisp and well-defined. Small object details were occasionally visible, as well. Grain was present at times, but it appeared to be an intentional element of the photography, and remained very light throughout the proceedings. A couple of specks were spotted on the print used, but the image remained largely clean. The presentation was also free of edge enhancement and only a couple of minor traces of pixelation appeared. Overall, a pretty nice presentation.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack does provide some minor instances of surround use for a few effects (see the battle scenes towards the end, for example) and some moderate amounts of ambience. Given the material, this is about all that one can reasonably expect in terms of rear speaker use. Audio quality seemed fine, with clear dialogue, music and effects.
EXTRAS: A commentary is included from writer/director Stephen Fry. There's also a brief featurette about the director and a 30-minute "making of" documentary.
Final Thoughts: "Bright Young Things" is a mostly entertaining portrait of characters within high society, offering good performances from the large cast. New Line's DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality and a few nice supplements. A recommended rental.
The Film ***