The notion of reworking The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's classic if severely conventioned 1895 play, using a modern-dress African-American cast while retaining its London setting and most of Wilde's trademark epigrammatic dialogue is an idea whose time should never have come.
This ill-conceived and artificial updating concerns the comic misadventures of two young aristocrats, Algernon (Wren T. Brown) and Jack (Daryl Roach), who each take on the name Ernest in order to snare two comely ladies, Cecily (Lanei Chapman) and Gwendolyn (Chris Calloway), who will only marry
men bearing that name. Standing in the way of both men is the impervious Lady Bracknell (Ann Weldon), Algernon's aunt, who takes an interest in the pedigree of any who dare to marry into the family. The action shifts midway from Algernon's London townhouse to his country estate, where the men's "Ernest" deceptions are revealed and straightened out, even to Lady Bracknell's demanding satisfaction, largely by a surprise revelation that Algernon and Jack, who was "misplaced" as an infant by governess Miss Prism (CCH Pounder), are really brothers, thus paving the way for the union of the
two couples, as well as that of Dr. Chausible (Brock Peters) and Miss Prism.
The language especially is a problem; it's modernized a bit (Lady Bracknell sneers at rap music and prefers jazz, for instance) in Kurt Baker and Peter Andrews's screenplay, but the late l9th-century rhythms and inflections become ludicrous given the film's modern setting and the fact that no one in the cast is even attempting a British accent. (Why not have switched locales to Los Angeles, where most of this film was shot?) Also ludicrous is the plot and its unwieldy contrivances, which, arguably, have little to do with the Black experience in any country at any time period.
First-time director Baker too often strands his actors in stagey tableaux, and the filmmakers' attempts to "open up" the play are mostly forced. Even a technically able production might have helped, but the sound is deficient, the production design crude and the cinematography mostly bleached out (perhaps due to being shot on videotape then transferred to film). Given all the flaws of this low-budget effort, which is nearly unwatchably long, only veterans Brock Peters (CARMEN JONES, STAR TREK IV) and Ann Weldon (SHAMPOO, BIRD) come off well; the other actors simply look uncomfortable.
Wilde's play has been filmed twice before, the most notable of the two being Anthony Asquith's 1952 version starring Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford and Joan Greenwood. This version premiered in October, 1991, at a Harvard University film symposium "Blacks in Black & White and Color."
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: G
- Review: The notion of reworking The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's classic if severely conventioned 1895 play, using a modern-dress African-American cast while retaining its London setting and most of Wilde's trademark epigrammatic dialogue is an idea… (more)