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The Affair of the Necklace

Hilary Swank wears a corset and many large hats in The Affair of the Necklace, the tale of a young woman's machinations in the court of pre-revolutionary France. Having first watched her beloved father gunned down by the King's soldiers for being a little too sympathetic to the common folk, and then her mother waste away of a broken heart, Jeanne St. Remy de Valois (Swank) spends her childhood in the care of others. As a grown-up Frenchwoman — with the nondescript sort-of English accent that befits a Hollywood costume drama — Jeanne plots to regain her family's name and property. With the help of a court gigolo with a lot of inside knowledge (Simon Baker), she hatches an extremely complicated and not very interesting scheme: She cozies up to the prime minister wannabe, Cardinal Louis de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce), a world-class lecher who's on the outs with Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson). Through a series of letters, she convinces him that Marie may be more inclined to grant him the position he seeks if he gifts her with an outrageously over-the-top diamond necklace. Jeanne cons money from the cardinal with the plan of keeping the necklace for herself and buying back her family home and ... oh, let's face it. It's a stupid plan, and a stupid movie, and everyone in it — good actors, all — are either horribly miscast or just wasted. Having started his career as a writer on the ABC-TV sitcom "Happy Days" and on films like Smokey and the Bandit and Private Benjamin, director Charles Shyer's career has previously consisted entirely of mainstream comedies, ranging from the abominable (I Love Trouble) to the merely irritating (the 1991 remake of Father of the Bride and its sequel) to the trite-yet-surprisingly-effective (Baby Boom and his first film, Irreconcilable Differences). He's a glaringly wrong choice for this material, and directs with the same lack of subtlety and nuance that he brought to his comedies. Affair blunders awkwardly from scene to scene, unsure whether it's a Merchant-Ivory costume epic or a wacky comedy-of-errors. Swank is so very, very wrong for the part of Jeanne — looking as if she took the role purely so she'd be seen wearing girl-clothes after her Oscar win for Boys Don't Cry — that one feels sorry for her, especially during the moments when her accent slips and her Nebraskan twang pops out. It's the sort of role that demands a Cate Blachett or even a Catherine Zeta-Jones. Price coasts on the kind of campy hand-wringing and mincing that should be beneath an actor of his abilities, and Richardson's Marie Antoinette comes off as something like a spoiled college girl. Christopher Walken, wearing a sinister goatee and David Lynch's hairdo, plays Cagliostro — famed mesmerist, rumored member of the Illuminati, and advisor to the cardinal; unfortunately, with his terrible Italian accent and patented Walken delivery, he just looks like he's wandered into the wrong movie. On the other hand, the costumes by Milena Canonero (Barry Lyndon, Out of Africa) are stunning. But two hours of watching gorgeous clothes parade by does not a movie make. Warner's DVD is a good-looking package with a sharp transfer in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On board are a commentary track by Charles Shyer; two "making-of" featurettes, "The Affair of the Necklace: The Making of a Scandal" and "Designing Affair"; six deleted scenes; cast-and-crew notes; the theatrical trailer; and a "gag reel" of not-especially funny bloopers. Snap-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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