Vanity Fair DVD: Review By Dodd

  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
Oh Reese Witherspoon. It seems like only yesterday that you were the lovelorn teenage girl with a crush on Jason London in The Man in the Moon. Or the walking symbol of purity and innocence in Fear and Cruel Intentions. I knew that before too long the actress would step into the shoes of a vixen to prove her versatility.

Vanity Fair is a period film from director Mira Nair. While Witherspoon has ventured into the period genre in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Vanity Fair is hardly as whimsical or elegant as the typical Merchant-Ivory fare. While most English period pieces are about finding husbands and wives to cherish forever, Fair takes into account something that is more abundant in contemporary society: whoring oneself off in the pursuit of riches.

Yes, while most pictures set in the English 1800's portray characters as either charming paupers or snobbish upperclassmen, Vanity Fair exposes us to the gold-digging seductresses that are rarely present in the genre. Becky Sharp (Witherspoon) is a young girl of governess status that wishes to do more for herself. Does she run off to Harvard and become a successful doctor? Come on now! This is old school England. Becky finds that the ticket to success is through marrying a man with plenty of green. Latching on to her friend Amelia (Romola Garai), Becky climbs the social ladder and eventually marries Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy).

Becky indeed falls in love with Rawdon, but faces the ultimate challenge. When the once loaded Rawdon hits a financial bump, can she stand by his side as a loving wife? Or must she continue her journey for jewels and high status.

Reese Witherspoon is quite a talented actress with the exception of her exaggerated performance as a ditz in Legally Blonde (for some reason people found this Clueless rip-off to be charming and funny). Her choice to play Becky Sharp is a bold decision considering the fact that this character is difficult to love. Most audiences, especially romantic Witherspoon fans, would probably hate to see the perky, loveable goody two-shoes play someone so shallow. However, Witherspoon handles the challenge quite well and pulls off an impressive performance.

Drawing more attention than Witherspoon is a range of talented British thespians playing very memorable characters. This includes Gabriel Byrne as a sinister upperclassman with a love for art and women, Bob Hoskins as a sloppy patriarch, and Jim Broadbent as a father hell-bent on marrying his son into money. These are just a few actors in the massive ensemble that give Vanity Fair its charm.

Mira Nair's direction is beautiful and enticing throughout the film. In fact at times it is breathtaking enough to distract me from the unoriginal storyline. Her vision especially comes out in scenes that integrate the drab English culture with a vibrant India culture. This had to have been old hat for Nair considering her India heritage and films on the culture.

Despite some visually stunning moments, though, Vanity Fair is simply the story of a girl that just wants to be rich and will stop at nothing to get that way. Even if it means wooing some poor schmuck she doesn't love. While starting out as somewhat intriguing with its array of colorful characters, Fair's story plunges into a slow downward spiral and leads to one plane wreck of an ending. In fact, the ending is so absurd that I slapped my forehead in utter disbelief. This may not seem like a big deal, but I try to reserve my forehead slaps for endings exhibiting the highest level of ludicrousness.

Welcome to Vanity Fair

The format of this featurette runs like a typical EPK, but the interview subjects offer far more intriguing insight than the usual promo interview subjects. We hear from a majority of the talented cast as well as Mira Nair on the experience of making this colorful drama.

The Women Behind Vanity Fair

Being that the key players in this film such as the director, producers, and star are all female, this featurette looks at the making of the film from the women's perspective. This is a little deeper and more personal than the previously mentioned EPK featurette. It puts emphasis on the point that women are best at making a film about women.

Deleted Scenes

There is a great deal of deleted scenes here that I found to be worthless. You know how you can tell when deleted scenes are not worth watching? When you cannot distinguish the slightly altered removed scene from the actual scene in the movie. This is very much worth missing.


Director Mira Nair offers up a single commentary track on this DVD. Her discussion on the picture is very calm and insightful unlike other poor tracks where speakers are lost for words or desperately trying to sound impressive. Considering that the direction is the most redeeming aspect of the picture, the director's remarks are worth a listen.

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) The picture quality is one of the best things about this picture. The vibrant colors and beautiful European settings are captured wonderfully here and look spectacular on the widescreen presentation.
Dolby Digital 5.1, English. The beautiful, elegant music comes through remarkably on the surround sound. Other than that, this romantic drama does not call for state-of-the-art sound.
Standard DVD keep case. The cover shows a vivid photo of Witherspoon up close with gold-tinted photos of scenes from the film on the bottom half of the photo.
Vanity Fair has received mixed reviews and I can see why. With magnificent direction and a weak script, it is hard to determine whether the film is a stinker or a marvel. To me, the film is simply average. Vanity Fair has the beauty, just not enough heart. Watching this film is like meeting a dumb sorority girl at a nightclub. Although stunning to look at, there is not enough rich material on the inside.

I do disagree with the critics that found Vanity Fair to be appalling, but I also disagree with those that loved it to pieces. There is no doubt that the film has its flaws. A film such as this teetering between good and bad is definitely worth a rental. I think every movie lover out there is entitled to forming his or her own opinion on this one.

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