4 out of 10
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Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp
Gabriel Byrne as The Marquess of Steyne
Romola Garai as Amelia Sedley
Tony Maudsley as Joseph Sedley
Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as George Osborne
Jim Broadbent as Mr. Osborne
Bob Hoskins as Sir Pitt Crawley
Douglas Hodge as Pitt Crawley
Meg Wynn Owen as Lady Crawley
Geraldine McEwan as Lady Southdown
Natasha Little as Lady Jane Sheepshanks
Eileen Atkins as Miss Matilda Crawley
Kathryn Drysdale as Rhoda Swartz
John Woodvine as Lord Bareacres
Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Bareacres
Nicholas Jones as Lord Darlington
Sian Thomas as Lady Darlington
Commentary by director Mira Nair
"The Women of Vanity Fair"
"Welcome to Vanity Fair"
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 141 Minutes
This film is based on the 1800's novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. The following is from the DVD cover:
"Reese Witherspoon gives a vibrant, captivating performance as one of the greatest female characters of all time, Becky Sharp, in the new sumptuous and sexy epic from acclaimed director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding). It's a dazzling ascent up the social ladder as vivacious Becky schemes and seduces her way to the top - until love and romance threaten to get in the way! Join her daring adventures that prove all is fair in love and war."
Vanity Fair is rated PG-13 for some sensuality/partial nudity and a brief violent image.
I have to start out by saying that Vanity Fair had little chance of winning me over. I'm typically not into movies based on Victorian literature. On top of that, it's most definitely a chick flick. Finally, films about the angst of high society Brits from the 1800's have a limited audience and I wasn't part of it. That being said, I was determined to give the film a fair review and at least allow it the chance to win me over. Unfortunately it never did.
Vanity Fair has several fatal flaws. The first of which is that it is long and a bit confusing. Characters were constantly being introduced and I was left with little clue as to who they were and how they were related to the other characters in the film. Just when you would think you had everything sorted out, the players would change again. It didn't help matters that some of these characters would die with little or no mention. In one scene they would be alive and kicking, in the next another character would casually mention that they had passed away. It was hard to follow. Throw in a very slowly paced plot and an over 2 hour running time and you have a real draining experience.
The next biggest problem is that there are very few, if any, sympathetic characters in the story. Every single one of them is unlikable for one reason or another. Reese Witherspoon is beautiful and talented as Becky Sharp, but her character is such a flirt and so self-centered that by the end you want to see her stomped by elephants. She is obsessed with getting into high society, so it's a little hard to root for her or feel sorry for her when things don't go her way. The same goes for Romola Garai as Amelia Sedley. Her character makes one bad choice after another to the point that you want to wring her neck. She repeatedly has the opportunity to find wealth, security, and true love, but she consistently fails to do the right thing. This goes on and on with characters throughout the story, so it's a little hard to enjoy it.
Director Mira Nair makes an absolutely beautiful film. The scenes are picture perfect, the backgrounds are beautiful, the sets are highly detailed, and the costumes are stunning. But Nair's Indian influence creeps in so much that it occasionally seems out of place. For example, Witherspoon and a group of other women do a sexy dance to jamming Indian music while wearing very revealing outfits. It didn't seem at all like something appropriate for the 1800's, especially so in front of a bunch of gawking men.
I would only recommend this film to fans of Reese Witherspoon and people that enjoy Victorian era period pieces. They'll definitely find it more entertaining than I did.
There are a few bonus features included on this DVD:
Commentary by director Mira Nair – Nair gives an interesting and informative commentary. She discusses the actors, the motivations for the characters, and technical aspects of the making of the film. She gives quite a bit of insight about what she intended to do with the picture.
Deleted scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes included on the DVD. One of the most notable shows an alternate ending where Becky Sharp is reunited with her estranged son at the funeral of her former brother-in-law. It's a touching scene that helps add a bit of closure to the story. There are other deleted scenes here and there (like an alternate opening sequence), but most are fairly minor and unmemorable.
"The Women of Vanity Fair" – This featurette highlights the women of Vanity Fair both on screen and off screen. A large number of the crew were women, thus bringing a unique approach to the characters and story. From the producers to the directors to the actors, they all brought the feminine perspective to how the movie should be made. They also discuss the characters and their personalities in the context of both the 1800's and 2004.
"Welcome to Vanity Fair" – This is your standard "making of" video with cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage, and clips from the film. It's a little odd to hear everyone revert back to their normal accents after hearing fake British accents through the whole movie.
The Bottom Line:
A long running time, confusing plot, and lack of sympathetic characters makes Vanity Fair a film only Reese Witherspoon and period piece fans could love.