Published Jan 25, 2016Whit Stillman's always had a knack for high-society backstabbing, so it was perhaps inevitable that he'd take on some Jane Austen. Her epistolary novel Lady Susan is, after all, a sort of Whit Stillman movie forthe 19th Century, and the storyline works perfectly with the filmmaker's directorial sense and comedic sensibility.
The film's called Love & Friendship, but the title is entirely ironic. Kate Beckinsale is excellent as Lady Susan, a conniving seductress whose looking to marry rich after the death of her husband while maintaining the illicit affair she's having with another woman's man. Her partner in crime is Chloë Sevigny's Alicia Johnson, who helps with her scheming while revelling in all of the hot gossip.
As with most true period pieces, there's a barrage of characters introduced in quick succession, all dressed in customary garb. Combined with the ridiculously verbose hybrid of Stillman and Austen's dialogue, there are a few times where you might be straining to keep up. Generously, Stillman repeats names and plot points enough that you won't be frustrated for long.
Similarly, Love & Friendship comes perilously close to staid thanks to its operatic score and rigidly traditional look. Fortunately, it's still a Whit Stillman movie at heart, so there's a bounty of crackling punchlines in every conversation and title card. Perhaps the film is even self-aware — one dinner party exchange includes the banter, "What a bore." "Yes, decidedly boring."
Beckinsale in particular is wonderful as a lovable antiheroine, while Tom Bennett steals every scene he's in as the absolutely moronic Sir James Martin. You'll be belly laughing while he bumbles through high tea with his well-behaved counterparts.
Love & Friendship will likely still be a little too stuffy for some audiences, but Stillman fans will find all of their favourite familiar beats in the director's latest comedy. Brimming with levity and devious behaviour, it's another delightful romp from this well-respected filmmaker. (Amazon / Roadside Attactions)