NEW YORK – The film adaptation of the classic novel "Vanity Fair" (search) might lose its vanity and just be known as fair if audiences react to it the way critics have.
The movie, which stars Reese Witherspoon (search), has received lackluster reviews and scant positive buzz since it opened Wednesday.
Directed by Mira Nair of "Monsoon Wedding" fame, "Vanity Fair" is the film version of the 19th-century novel of the same name by William Makepeace Thackeray (search).
Witherspoon plays the heroine, the poor orphan Becky Sharp — a scheming gold-digger and social climber who uses her beauty, charm and musical talents to penetrate the snobbish upper class of early 1800s London and snag a rich husband.
"She was somebody who didn't care for the cards that society had dealt her and she made her own deck," Nair, 46, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"She basically carved her way in a time when it was much harder to carve your way as a young woman from the other side of the tracks. Motherless, orphaned and born on the outside into a completely class-straitjacketed society," Nair added.
The "Legally Blonde" (search) star adopts an impeccable British accent for the role, but her performance is said to be flat and cold. Viewers might not be sympathetic to Sharp's quest or care much whether she succeeds or fails, critics have said.
Becky insinuates herself into the upper crust as a governess, teaching the children of down-on-his-luck Sir Pitt (Bob Hoskins (search)) for a brief time and helping him clean up his cluttered old mansion to impress a rich old relative (Eileen Atkins), who has more money than she can live to spend.
This is the primary goal of each character: Try to look like you don't need money to impress those who do. Then maybe they'll die and leave you some actual class, and then perhaps poor relatives will kiss up to you, too.
Becky takes up with Pitt's son Rawdon, has a son, survives the Napoleonic wars and continually tries to keep her household afloat with gifts from wealthy admirers.
Meanwhile, her childhood friend Amelia (Romola Garai), a major character from the novel, is relegated to supporting status in the movie. She's not accepted by the family of the wealthy soldier she marries, and she and her son are forced to live a low-caste life after he's killed.
Adapting centuries-old literature into a modern Hollywood movie is always a dicey enterprise, if for no other reason than a dense 19th-century novel is likely to include much more of the necessary detail and historical context for a 21st-century reader to relate to the characters and their motivations.
The weekend will tell if viewers "get it."
The $23 million "Vanity Fair" is produced by Focus Features and rated PG-13.
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press' Anthony Breznican and David Germain contributed to this report.