Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Underappreciated Performances- Stephen Campbell Moore in "Bright Young Things"
For my inaugural edition of "Underappreciated Performances," I wanted to pick a great performance from a film that flew under the radar when it was released and deserves to be discovered. What immediately came to mind was British actor-turned-director Stephen Fry's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, renamed Bright Young Things. While not on par with films such as Kill Bill Volume 1, City of God and 21 Grams (all released in 2003, the same year as Bright Young Things), the film is so deliciously venomous and has such an insanely talented cast (Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing, Dan Akroyd, Jim Broadbent, Emily Mortimer, James McAvoy, Michael Sheen and Fenella Woolgar) that it all goes down rather easily and entertainingly.
But the main reason I keep coming back to Bright Young Things is the central performance by Stephen Campbell Moore (in his first film, no less) as earnest, happy-go-lucky writer Adam Fenwick-Symes. In comparison with the other characters, he is definitely less eccentric, with fewer quirks and funny lines to say, but he is the heart and soul of the film. Without Moore's Adam there to bounce off of, the "bright young things" would be too dizzy and chaotic to be taken seriously. With Adam, they turn things down a notch and move at a slower tempo (if not completely normal).
His insight into these "bright young things" is rather amazing, given how well they hide their true feelings from the world. Adam is the one who saw through Miles' facade while having their party in the mental institution and forced him to remove his glasses and show the world his pain. He also knows that Nina wants to be comfortable in life and doesn't want to have to worry about money, so that's why he struggles so hard to get the money to marry her.
Moore is not good looking in the typical alpha-male, Hollywood movie star sort of way. Instead, he has to rely on characterization to make us fall in love with him (and understand why Nina is in love with him as well). One of my favorite scenes involves Moore's Adam dancing around Nina's apartment in heaven because her father has just given him the money he needs to marry her. For that one brief moment we see Adam in pure bliss and nothing is going to bring him down. So what if his book has been seized by customs and he has no job to support himself on? The money is just enough to marry his beloved on and that's all that matters to him. It is oh-so-simple, but yet it speaks volumes about Adam.
Even later on in the film, after he has "sold" Nina to Ginger and been turned jaded by World War II, Moore's Adam retains his warmth for when he really needs it. The final scene between him and Nina is one of the most touching and romantic, without being overly sentimental, I have seen in recent memory.
Emily Mortimer went on after this film to play Jonathon Rhys-Meyer's neglected wife in Match Point, while both James McAvoy and Michael Sheen received considerable, if ultimately futile, Oscar buzz for The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, respectively. With his castmates doing such fantastic work, where is Moore's attention? He appeared in both the West End production and film version of The History Boys, but he still hasn't quite broken through to the American public quite yet. I don't know what's taking the audience so long, because Stephen Campbell Moore should have been a big star four years ago.