WRITER-DIRECTOR Julia Taylor-Stanley used a 1936 Noel Langley novel called "There's a Porpoise Close Behind Us" as the basis for her film "These Foolish Things," which centers on a group of aspiring young theater types in pre-World War II London.

As it happens, from the vapid ingenue Diana (Zoe Tapper) to the droopy playwright Robin (David Leon), these are indeed foolish young things. And also tiresome. Even those who relish a good backstage drama may have trouble caring about the ups and downs of Diana and Robin's careers and love lives, even though the supporting cast is peppered with notables such as Lauren Bacall, Anjelica Huston and Terrence Stamp.

Diana and Robin first meet outside a theater, are drawn together by their shared failures and rapidly become each other's crushes and professional support networks. She's pretty and he's extraordinarily handsome, which means they attract interest from other quarters, including some inappropriate suitors. Diana's nasty, arch cousin Gastrin (Leo Bill) seems to have a yen for her, despite the fact that they were raised practically as brother and sister -- Diana's mother, a famous actress, having dropped dead in mid-performance in front of her young daughter.

Meanwhile Gastrin's friend, a matinee idol named Douglas (Mark Umbers), has his sights set on the heterosexual Robin. The scenes involving his attempted seductions of Robin put a serious damper on the film. A barely closeted predator, Douglas is depicted as so anxious to get his hands on Robin that he'll resort to drugs or violence to do so. To be presented with such an old-fashioned stereotype is just puzzling. It's as if Taylor-Stanley were so interested in making a period piece that she decided to adopt 1930s values in making "These Foolish Things."

Just as problematic is the shift in tone presented each time Gastrin or Douglas do something vile and cruel. Are we meant to find them amusing? Presumably so, given that the rest of Taylor-Stanley's supporting players are all intended to be lightly comedic -- from Huston's eccentric American heiress, Lottie, who decides to invest in Robin's play, to Bacall's grand dame of the theater.

Stamp has the best role in the movie, playing an enigmatic butler named Baker, who dispenses wisdom, quips and champagne in equal measure while freelancing his way across England. But Taylor-Stanley has even bungled this character, dispatching Baker hither and yon to work for so many masters that his every appearance, while appreciated, becomes implausible. She must have clung to Stamp, hoping his insouciant presence would lull the audience into believing that this foolish thing had real merit.

Reach Mary F. Pols at 925-945-4741 or mpols@bayareanewsgroup.com.

'these foolish things'

D+

Starring: Zoe Tapper, David Leon, Anjelica Huston, Mark Umbers, Leo Bill, Terence Stamp

Director: Julia Taylor-Stanley

Rated: NR

Opens today: Shattuck, Berkeley; Lumiere, San Francisco

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes