What You Need To Know:
The cast of VANITY FAIR expansive, and director Mira Nair does a good job of tracking all the characters so that the audience does not forget them or their stories. Each one slips in and out of social graces, feeling both the heat of the spotlight and the coldness of its shadow. VANITY FAIR is filmed beautifully with a rich color palette. There is almost no foul language and just a comedic, brief glimpse of rear nudity. VANITY FAIR is ambitious and long, but it’s also engrossing.
(B, H, Pa, L, V, S, N, A, MM) Moral worldview, with some humanist and pagan elements, denounces greed and meanness, with a character who seeks money and status even as she resents it, and men who eagerly go to war for their country; one obscenity and one profanity; corpses shown after battle; sex between married couple implied, women kiss in background, and some characters attempt or consider adultery; upper female nudity in back ground of picnic scene, comic rear female nudity from elderly woman hopping from a bathtub, upper male nudity in bed, and dancers wear revealing costumes; champagne; and, extreme greed, snobbery, exaggerating “white lies,” gambling, taking advantage of orphans, and revenge exalted.
VANITY FAIR is the latest adaptation of part of William Thackeray’s 1848 novel which casts Reese Witherspoon very convincingly in the role of the protagonist – though not exactly a heroine – Becky Sharp.
Sharp is born to poor parents and orphaned early in life. Eager to leave the boarding school where she is almost a slave, she becomes a governess and begins climbing the social ladder. As one character pronounces, “She is quite the mountaineer.” Becky ingratiates herself to all the right people and eventually marries a soldier of good stock. Because of her heritage, she is never fully accepted into the elite social circles, and she finds that life among the rich is as strenuous as living poor.
The cast of VANITY FAIR is expansive, and director Mira Nair does a good job of tracking all the characters so that the audience does not forget them or their stories. Each one slips in and out of social graces, feeling both the heat of the spotlight and the coldness of its shadow.
Becky Sharp’s experience as a governess reveals exactly how much, and why, she wants to be part of high society, but because Reese Witherspoon plays the character as kind of sweet, it’s hard for the audience to fully see how much of a manipulator Sharp is. For instance, she makes a move for her friend’s brother just minutes after joking about his weight. The movie is satirizing the cruel social scene, but Sharp is part of what is being satirized. She is a social climber who has essentially shallow aims.
VANITY FAIR is filmed beautifully with a rich color palette. Heavily influenced by Indian art and culture, the movie stands out from the boring yellow and brown look familiar in so many period pieces. The costumes are fantastic without being over-the-top or too stagy. Visually, the movie is engrossing.
As expected, there is almost no foul language, and the only nudity is a comedic glimpse at an elderly woman jumping up from a bathtub. What limits the audience is the length of the movie, which is well over two hours. The first act, although important, is repetitive and feels especially long.
Admittedly, almost no adaptation could capture the complexity of Thackeray’s long novel, but VANITY FAIR is very entertaining once Becky Sharp gains entry into her social promised land. Much weightier than a soap opera but still with the trappings of ordinary 19th Century adaptations, like overbearing aunts and arguing over wills, Mira Nair’s version is ambitious and spottily successful.