Review: Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship
8 10
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PLOT: Newly widowed and destitute, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) enlists the aid of her American friend, Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) in a scheme designed to net her a rich new husband.

REVIEW: In a way, Jane Austen adaptations are basically tent-pole event movies for the Masterpiece Theater set. They're handsomely mounted, usually well-acted, and often quite witty. While there's something comforting in their familiarity, they’re also more than a little stale. After all, how many PRIDE & PREJUDICE adaptations can we watch? Along comes Whit Stillman, who proves with LOVE & FRIENDSHIP that an Austen adaptation can still be stunningly original without totally bastardizing the work its based on.

love and friendship kate beckinsale chloe sevigny

Adapting one of her lesser-known novels, “Lady Susan”, Stillman's made what will no doubt go down as one of the best Austen adaptations ever by bringing all the hallmarks of his own work to the genre. In fact, Stillman, who specializes in movies about the late-seventies/early-eighties American prep-school elite, isn't stretching himself too much, as his movies have always served as juicy digs as class culture. As such, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP doesn't simply feel like another “Austen movie” but rather a full-on Whit Stillman movie, as vital as METROPOLITAN, BARCELONA or THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.

It's no accident that this reunites the starts of that last film, Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, as in many ways this serves as a kind-of bizarro sequel, only set two hundred years earlier. Like in DISCO, Beckinsale's a total creature of comfort albeit one that's smart enough to realize her genteel poverty comes from the obligations of her wealthy in-laws. Rather than be grateful for their continued support, she schemes to get as much out of them as she can, with the help of Sevigny's Alicia, who bears all her friend's elitist attitudes and contempt for “the colonies”, helping her partly out of boredom (being married to Stephen Fry's much-older Mr. Johnson) and partly out of envy for Susan's poise and elegance.

Certainly, this is Beckinsale's juiciest role in years, and one she's ideally suited for. Looking absolutely beguiling in period dress, it's easy to understand how quickly people like the young, but somewhat dim aristocrat, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) could fall “hook, line and sinker” for her charms, as does virtually every male character in the story, leaving it to the sharper wives to make sure her schemes don't pan out.

Yet, despite Susan's clear-cut mercenary ambition, she's always quite charming and likable, something that's no doubt due to Beckinsale, who has a way of making put-downs come-off like compliments to be cherished. Susan is more selfish than all-out bad, with her seeming to a least harbor some minor affection for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), even after they become rivals for DeCourcy.

love and friendship kate beckinsale chloe sevigny

While as gorgeously assembled as any other Austen adaptation, Stillman's got a few tricks-up his sleeves that give it a modern feeling, such as the sarcastic title cards used to introduce the many characters.

In addition to Beckinsale, and Sevigny, the rest of the cast is excellent, made up mostly of fresh-faces unknown to North American audiences. The real discovery here is Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, Frederica's “unintended” and a pretty hilarious depiction of just how naïve and stupid someone could potentially be if raised in such a privileged, buttoned-up society, to the point that he doesn't know what peas are or how pregnancy works. Bennett is a joy to watch, and gives possibly the best straight-up comedic performance I've ever seen in an Austen adaptation.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is one of the first productions of Amazon Studios, getting a theatrical run before hitting the service in a few months. Following ELVIS & NIXON, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is another example of how well that streamer is at producing quality fare – a far cry from the Adam Sandler-dominated roster at Netflix. While it may only make a small impression theatrically (although it certainly deserves to be seen on a big screen), there's no doubt this will rack-up a lot of Amazon views and even if you're not one for period pieces, this is the rare one that really works on several levels.

Source: JoBlo.com



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