Love & Friendship movie full length review - Love & Friendship & Boredom
(RATING: ??? out of 5)
THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.
IN BRIEF: A comedy of manners in need of more comedy.
SYNOPSIS: The Widow Vernon searches for love and security in British aristocratic society.
JIM'S REVIEW: Finding a suitable suitor is the sporting game and all the rage in Whit Stillman's stuffy but diverting period film, Love & Friendship. Renamed as such, from Jane Austen's 18th century novella, Lady Susan, this comedy of manners looks at relationships with a modern day sense and sensibility, but its screenplay lacks the necessary charm and wit to captivate its audience. The film is a rather stodgy affair in need of some enlightenment and, dare I say, fun.
?Poor Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale)! Living a recluse life amid vicious rumors of her improprieties circulating in British upper class circles, the Widow Vernon begins to take matters into her own hands. Her goal is simple, though her course of action is rather complicated: A husband is her ultimate conquest and providing a secure future for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). She starts to narrow the field of possible suitors, from the rich to the pompous. Her possible targets include attractive and quite young Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), wealthy and witless Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), and already married (and rarely seen) Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearain). As we watch her scheme unfold and complications ensue, so too do her American friend, Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), and her questioning sister-in-law, Lady Catherine (Emma Greenwell).
?The script by Mr. Stillman contains some droll humor and clever asides, but the farcical elements never achieve the rightful level of satire. Too much of the action is played off screen, with events suddenly changing the characters' actions. These incidents seem more like plot devices than actual period responses. There is also a slight anachronistic modern-day feel in the film's narrative structure with the overall effect becoming a playful seduction in the battle of the sexes. Nevertheless, Love & Friendship still entertains its movie-going audience, even if its pace is of the slow and leisurely Masterpiece Theatre variety.
?Mr. Stillman directs his able cast with an assure hand, although his film is too episodic and choppy. The mood swings erratically from melodrama to drawing room comedy as characters range from pretentious buffoons to conniving schemers. The actors play their roles well, especially Mr. Samuel as the smitten lover and Mr. Bennett as the foppish fool, the latter breathing some life and needed energy into these dreary proceedings. At the center of the tale is Ms. Beckinsale's Lady Susan, who looks the part and carries of the elegance and beauty of this self-centered vixen, but the actress never quite succeeds in showing her character's deviousness and hidden jealousies behind all of her manipulations.
?The period details are impeccably mounted and add authenticity to the film. The costume design by Elmer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh is flawless, Richard Van Oosterhout's atmospheric photography enhances already exacting production design by Anna Rackard, and a lyrical score by Benjamin Esdraffo lends the proper refined airs of haughty elegance.
?Love & Friendship may show these aristocrats as foolish and superficial foils blindly following society's demands. The film creates an acerbic view of a time when men may have had financial dominance over women, yet it was that fairer sex who had more power with their arsenal of beauty and poise...that upper hand ultimately being a simple feminine gesture than made the male of the species swoon in their cunning presence. As for this film experience, one may not be totally beguiled watching Love & Friendship, but any moviegoer will be easily seduced by Mr. Stillman's love of language and style.
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