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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Love & Friendship

The pairing of Whit Stillman and Jane Austen is perfect. Stillman's movies, though set in the present or near-present, have always dealt with the same sort of things Austen's books did--the protocols of everyday life. Of course, Austen's women were always thinking of marriage, and that is the case in Love & Friendship, based on, Lady Susan, an Austen novella.

Lady Susan, played with delicious glee by Kate Beckinsale, is a recently widowed woman with a less than sterling reputation. She is forced to leave one estate because the wife of her host thinks she has eyes for her husband. She lands at her brother-in-law's house, where she is taken with familial duty.

Unable to collect her husband's inheritance, she must find a new husband. She sets her hooks first for a young man, Xavier Samuel. He only thinks of her as a friend, so when his father comes all the way to visit to tell him to stay away from her he is shocked. But he does end up proposing to her.

Meanwhile, Beckinsale's teenage daughter (Morfydd Clark) is being wooed by a complete nitwit, James Martin (played with comic genius by Tom Bennett). The scenes with Martin are the best in the film, and if movie awards were more conscious of comedic acting then Bennett would get loads of them. He is described as "silly," "a fool," "a blockhead," and "a pea-brain," but he is happily obtuse. He is like an early version of Monty Python's upper-class twits, as he heedlessly goes on about there being twelve commandments and not knowing that verse and poetry are the same thing.

Other characters include Chloe Sevigny, as Beckinsale's American friend and confidante (reteamed from Stillman's Last Days of Disco), who is told by her husband to cease communication with her disreputable friend lest she be sent back to her ancestral home of Connecticut.

Love & Frienship is sumptious and really needs a second viewing, as the dialogue is so dense and fast that I don't think I caught everything. There are numerous laugh out loud lines, such as when Beckinsale says of Bennett, "he's so rich and foolish he can't stay single for long," or when Beckinsale's sister-in-law refers to her as a "diabolical genius." Of course, Beckinsale is just trying to fight for her survival in an age when women were not taken care of by the law. That she's willing to use others around her, including her daughter, as pawns just makes her queen of the jungle.

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