Thursday, June 2, 2016

[Review] Love & Friendship

Whit Stillman directs this Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship--a courtship period piece with a gentle snap of humor.

Set in late 1700s England, recently widowed and dubiously manipulative Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) plans a stay at the immaculate Churchill mansion, in search of a husband for herself and one for her shy daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Several other in-laws and suitors (one of which includes the painfully bland Reginald, played by Xavier Samuel) are introduced with on-screen captions in regard to their character "type", which adds a self-conscious element to the romp.

The film gets off to a bit of a slow and underwhelming start, like a middling afternoon stage play. Too mundane at times. Too breezy at others. However, it eventually begins to charm as the script winkishly pokes fun at its subjects and the culture of elaborate wealth and superficial marriage. You can also expect the lavish costume detail and the usual sharp and flourishing dialogue, but it's Kate Beckinsale's finely distinct performance and acidic wit that becomes a real treat every time she enters a scene.

Things also get a humorous boost when the clueless and not-so-proper Sir James Bennett (Tom Bennett) shows up announced, sticking out in the stuffy environment. At dinner he exclaims, "How jolly! Tiny green balls!" (when talking about peas). He later spouts off an amusing monologue about which of the 10 Commandments he'd choose to eliminate first, and then lets loose at a fancy ballroom dance. The guy is a hoot, and I think audiences are thankful that he's here.

Love & Friendship is light and forgettable, but there's still plenty enough to like about it.


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