• Review: Love & Friendship (2016)

    From David N. Butterworth@21:1/5 to All on Wed Jul 13 10:58:22 2016
    LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016)
    A film review by David N. Butterworth
    Copyright 2016 David N. Butterworth

    ** (out of ****)

    "Love & friendship : in which Jane Austen's Lady Susan Vernon is entirely vindicated : concerning the beautiful Lady Susan Vernon, her cunning
    daughter & the strange antagonism of the DeCourcy family" is the rather
    mouthy title of writer/director Whit Stillman's novelization of an early
    Austen novella, "Lady Susan." The beloved British novelist never submitted "Lady Susan" for publication--it was issued posthumously some fifty years
    after her death--and perhaps there was good reason for that. The potential
    for a frothy comedy of manners is evident despite the fact that our heroine
    is a selfish and conniving adulteress--in short, pretty darned despicable.
    But even Stillman recognized "Lady Susan" (the book) as "flawed," and while
    the filmed version of his treatment, abbreviated to "Love & Friendship" to
    save marquee owners a headache, is impeccably appointed and grandly scored, Stillman's trademark talky-ness falls mostly flat, with little of the wit
    or erudition of his earlier works (cf. "Metropolitan," "Barcelona").
    Despite the film's excellent press, "Hilarious" it is far from.
    The widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a beauty, is obligated
    to leech off her in-laws when rumors of her dalliances with Lord Manwaring (handsome Lochlann O'Mearain, barely in the film) begin to surface. While temporarily residing at Churchill, the DeCourcy's stately home, Lady Susan continues to make waves by seeking a suitable match for herself and her reluctantly-eligible daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Chloe Sevigny, reteamed with Beckinsale some 18 years after Whitman's "'Last Days of
    Disco," plays Lady Susan's American friend and confidante Alicia Johnson
    and Stephen Fry, like O'Mearain rarely onscreen, is Alicia's much older husband. Rounding out an excessive roster of family members and suitors
    are Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCourcy, whose allegiances change with the weather, Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin (a boob), Emma Greenwell as the straight-laced Catherine DeCourcy Vernon, and Justin Edwards as her stuffy husband, Charles.
    Like the book that spawned it, "Love & Friendship" doesn't feel quite finished, which is part of the reason Stillman chose to expand Austen's
    novella in the first place. It ends abruptly, glosses over some
    significant hook-ups along the way (all the significant conversations
    appear to have been conducted off-screen), re-stresses odd lines of
    dialogue that don't bear repeating, and underutilizes its one creative
    motif (on-screen transcription of written communications). And there's certainly nobody to root for in any of this: you feel manipulated by Lady Susan, sorry for Frederica, irritated by Reginald, and embarrassed by Sir
    James (although Bennett's delightfully awkward turn *is* one of the film's
    few highlights).
    All told, this is a rather lazy "'Susan."

    David N. Butterworth

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