You Go, Girl; Reese Witherspoon Stars in a Lavish 'Vanity Fair'

By Ansen, David | Newsweek, September 6, 2004 | Go to article overview

You Go, Girl; Reese Witherspoon Stars in a Lavish 'Vanity Fair'


Ansen, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Ansen

"She's no mere social climber," a character observes of Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's sumptuous condensation of "Vanity Fair." "She's a mountaineer." Scheming, beautiful, seductive and utterly self-serving, Becky--played with great verve and an impeccable English accent by Reese Witherspoon--is one of the most vivacious monsters in 19th-century literature. Her tenacious ascent from orphan to high-society shark allowed novelist William Makepeace Thackeray to cast his shrewd eye on the vanity and duplicity of an entire society.

Some of what Thackeray intended comes through in Nair's literate, well-cast, handsomely shot epic. But Nair and Witherspoon pull back from the ferocity of Thackeray's portrait: they're afraid we won't find Becky Sharp likable enough. Yes, she's the most brilliant, bold and vibrant creature in this social panorama, but she should also be chilling. The movie turns her into a proto-feminist heroine--up to a point. But to do so means declawing Thackeray and draining some of the tale's nasty fun. …

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You Go, Girl; Reese Witherspoon Stars in a Lavish 'Vanity Fair'
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