Monday, May 30, 2016

Love & Friendship [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3.5 Stars) (3.5 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review

The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Love & Friendship [2016] (screenplay and directed by Whit Stillman based on the novel Lady Susan [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jane Austen [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) should delight almost EVERY Jane Austen fan and ought to certainly earn Kate Beckensale an Oscar nomination for her utterly _spot-on_ / inspired lead role performance as the breathlessly shrewd, recently widowed (but _not_ exactly mourning... ;-) later-30 something "original desperate housewife" Lady Susan Vernon [wikip] [IMDb].

Interestingly enough, though Lady Susan was one of Jane Austen's EARLIEST WORKS (written between 1793-95) it was published ONLY LONG AFTER HER DEATH (Jane Austen died in 1817 while Lady Susan was published only in 1871 ;-).  And I _honestly_ "understand" ;-) as Lady Susan was such a delightfully / _devilishly_ subversive character capable of just cutting through "polite society" of the time like "a hot knife through butter" while disarmingly / infuriatingly smiling throughout.

I would also add that anyone familiar with some of Whit Stillman's previous films (he hasn't made many, only five over nearly 20 years) -- I've seen two The Last Days of Disco [1997] and Damsels in Distress [2011] (the former I remember to this day and the latter being one of my all time favorite films since I began my blog five years ago) --  would appreciate that probably NO ONE could have adapted the Austen's original material here as well as he could.  Honestly folks, this could be THE FUNNIEST JANE AUSTEN ADAPTATION in a generation (or, honestly, perhaps EVER ;-).

Okay, with SUCH A BUILDUP, what's the story about?

It's about Lady Susan (played again exquisitely, indeed inspiringly by Kate Beckensale) being "on a mission."  Recently widowed with only a mid-to-late teenage daughter, Frederica (played again wonderfully / naively by Morfydd Clark), she's realized that she needs to get her daughter and then _herself_ married-off to a couple of _very rich men_ VERY FAST.   And though she is breathlessly "Machiavellian (in a corset ;-)" about this, she also proves very _pragmatic_ and even _kind_ about it as well:

When Susan realizes that her still, let's face it, _teenage daughter_ really didn't appreciate the gravity of their situations (women in Jane Austen's time still couldn't inherit property ... hence if they didn't get married / remarried _quickly_ they were doomed...) and therefore Frederica "was holding her nose" at the prospect of marrying the man that Susan had initially lined-up for her, a certain kind / rich if dimwitted ("rattle of a man") Sir James (played once more wonderfully by Tom Bennett), SHE (Susan) proves willing to set her daughter up with the (again super-rich, pedigreed) guy that Susan herself was gunning for, a Sir Reginald DuCourcy (played by Xavier Samuel), while settling for the dimwitted (but rich) Sir James herself.  (But then Susan had already learned something that Frederica did not yet understand, that, as per the / Jane Austen's time, "first things first" a woman needed a rich husband to "provide for her / her children."  "Happiness" is really / merely "a secondary concern" that can be "arranged for" (in J.A. speak "procured") "by other means" ...

A desperate situation called for desperate measures and while the rest of quite polite society was, of course, "scandalized" by her machinations, Lady Susan was _not_ I repeat _not_ going to "end up poor" in her old age if she could help it.

So much ensues, and though one generally "needs a score card" to keep track of all of the characters in a typical Jane Austen story, writer/director Stillman amusingly PROVIDES VIEWERS WITH ONE (OF SORTS) right at the beginning of the film as he provides a caption by each of the characters as they are introduced, giving their name, their relation to the other characters, and then, most amusingly, the principal trait by which we should remember them.  The device works beautifully and immediately sets the tone of the marvelously, often laugh-out-loud, whimsical story that follows.

Honestly, this is almost certainly one of the best / funniest English language films of 2016 (and it's only May ;-).

A great, great (if also on another level, still distressing ...) film!

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