How much do I love Reese Witherspoon? Enough to sit all the way through this movie. Vanity Fair starts out with a lot of promise: like Tracy Flick and Elle Woods, her Becky Sharp is a clever, unruly woman in the mold of Roseanne or Madonna, a woman determined to be in charge of her own destiny and eager to break as many rules as she can along the way. In the first half of the movie, she’s doing a pretty good job of it, repeatedly getting knocked off the walls of the 19th-century English caste system, but never hesitating to dust herself off and give it another go.

As the film wears on, though, Becky’s victories become more and more petty, and her defeats more and more predictable. The walls of class are too high for her to scale, it seems, and as she grows increasingly desperate to establish herself, her decision-making becomes progressively worse. By the time she’s playing in a song-and-dance routine for sleazy Gabriel Byrne, she’s reduced herself to a puppet, a token for the men around her to pass around and fight over, until she’s left destitute, childless, and bawling on the stairs, with only a contrived, tacked-on coda to offer her “redemption” as a safe, defanged mistress. I know it’s a lot to ask of a movie based on a Thackeray novel from 1848 to have a truly progressive heroine, but seriously, the last act is really yucky to watch.