Stephen Fry’s “Bright Youthful Things,” adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s gleeful, running-with-scissors 1930 satirical novel “Vile Physiques,” perfectly and admirably captures the spirit of Waugh — except if this doesn’t. Waugh set “Vile Bodies” in England, within an imaginary near-future that shares many characteristics using the real 1920s. Most particularly, it’s populated by some “bright youthful people” who fill their days with one chief activity: staving off monotony, a condition of mind they fear greater than poverty (particularly because many of them do not have to fear poverty whatsoever).
To “Vile Bodies” a satire or perhaps a social commentary would be to pin the most convenient one-size-fits-all tag onto it. Although it is elegant and snickeringly amusing (it’s dotted with figures like “Lord Circumference” and “Fanny Throbbing,” their names alone like fat dollops of cat-cat cream), Waugh’s sharpest darts are his invisible ones. He comments on inappropriate behavior without ever stooping to complete anything so gauchely apparent as really comment. Everything the figures do is light and thrown off and frequently morally deplorable: It normally won’t have epiphanies, only parties. As shallow and often unlikable because they are, though, we discover ourselves wanting to be with them to the finish from the book. That’s the best test of the social magnetism: We’re real, they’re imaginary, but still, we’d prefer to hold off them, if perhaps they’d have us. How twisted is the fact that?
Fry’s “Bright Youthful Things” so adeptly captures the insidious likability of Waugh’s figures, especially in the movie’s first couple of-thirds, that we’re primed to forgive it for a way, within the finish, it grinds home the moral messages that Waugh only nodded her head at (without bothering to boost an eyebrow or perhaps lower his newspaper, it appears). Fry’s movie — also, he adapted the screenplay — is placed within the 1930s, instead of Waugh’s imagining from the 1930s, that was most likely an option designed for convenience’ sake greater than other things. (Like a filmmaker, how can you adapt a singular occur an imaginary “near future” from the 1930s and pretend The Second World War isn’t coming? Easier to acknowledge the path of background and be happy with it. On top of that, Waugh’s 1930 vision for the future was prescient enough — he ends “Vile Bodies” with the start of a war.)