Reese Witherspoon’s great performance is wasted in ‘Vanity Fair’

James Purefoy and Reese Witherspoon in 'Vanity Fair'
James Purefoy and Reese Witherspoon in ‘Vanity Fair’

Let me start this one off by just saying now that it’s going to be short. This is one of those reviews I struggle through, because I have nothing nice to say about this movie.

Vanity Fair is the kind of period piece I never understand. For the most part, these type of movies are melodramatic nonsense filled with unlikable characters playing the social society game with a lack of compassion and filled with greed. And I just can never grasp why people find them fascinating.

Here we follow the efforts of Rebecca Sharp as she uses sex and wit to slither up the social ladder in the late 1800s England. The story follows the people she steps on as she ascends that ladder, eventually falls off it, then struggles to ascend once more.

I really am sitting here at the keyboard struggling to talk about this movie. It has been quite some time since I’ve been witness to a production that so disgusted me. But what makes this experience unique is that it had nothing to do with the actors in it, the direction, or anything about the production itself. The problem for me was quite simply the story and characters.

Reese Witherspoon in 'Vanity Fair'
Reese Witherspoon in ‘Vanity Fair’

There isn’t one redeemable person in the entire film. There are generally just two types of people here: the disgustingly arrogant elite, and the people they abuse and use. And while there are perhaps a few characters who are not morally corrupt, they are ultimately dramatically stupid that you cannot possibly feel sympathy for them.

Sharp is someone you’re suppose to feel something for, and Vanity Fair does attempt repeatedly to manipulate you into feeling sorry for her. In one scene, she attends a high society gathering where the majority of women openly turn their backs on her. Eventually, one of them takes pity on her, but we the audience know — or should know — that this woman’s noble efforts are wasted. Sharp is not really deserving of sympathy because she is the very person the other women believe her to be: a gold-digger who manipulates her way into rich society. A shallow, selfish woman. And what makes this movie so frustrating is that she never changes. In the end, through all her troubles and everything that she has lost, she remains vain and empty.

It’s as if the movie attempts to con the audience in the same manner that Sharp cons those around her.

Visually, the film is beautiful. Well directed, and Reese Witherspoon does a strong job as Rebecca Sharp. All of this grandeur, however, is wasted on a film that has no redeeming elements to it.

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