Youth doesn’t pay

Rated 4.0

Stephen Fry’s smart, splashy, funny adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies makes the most of the original’s potential as a prickly variation on the screwball comedies of the same (between-the-World-Wars) era. A large and excellent cast brings Waugh’s “bright young things,” reckless upper class hedonists and bold “smart set” bohemians, back to briskly immediate life, and Fry and company sail through a daffily farcical plot in something like tragicomic fashion.

Emily Mortimer and Stephen Campbell Moore play the young couple whose dead-pan romance and oft-disrupted engagement are buffeted repeatedly by wildly erratic shifts in his fortunes—a confiscated manuscript, high-speed rise and fall as a tabloid gossip columnist, generous gift checks with patently phony signatures on them, frivolous gambling with huge payoffs that get lost or maybe can’t be collected, etc.

And swirling in and out of this bittersweet comedy of love and money are a host of quirky caricatures and bemused grotesques—a high society evangelist named Mrs. Melrose Ape (Stockard Channing), a drunkenly unpredictable "major" (Jim Broadbent), the magnificently crazed and gracious Colonel Blount (Peter O’Toole), a high-handed Canadian-born publishing mogul (Dan Aykroyd), a fallen aristocrat (James McAvoy) who commits an outlandish and hilarious act of "yellow journalism" before ending it all, the haughty party girl Agatha (Fenella Woolgar) who goes off the deep end in a vintage racing car while high on coke and booze, etc. All that and there’s still room for pungent cameos by the likes of John Mills, Bill Paterson, Jim Carter, Simon Callow and Richard E. Grant.