Friday, July 08, 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

Film: Love & Friendship (2016)
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark
Director: Whit Stillman
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

There once was a time when I couldn't get enough of the Jane Austen films.  I was a young man, starting to become obsessed with the entire concept of the "classic novel" when A&E played Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and suddenly I was hooked.  It helps that the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle version was (in my opinion) the best filmed version of any Austen story, but couple that with the splendid Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Gwyneth Paltrow's wry turn in Emma, and like most of America, I suddenly had Austen fever.  However, in the years since, while I've read a couple more of her novels, I've lost a little bit of that love so when I saw that they were making Lady Susan (though with the more Austen-tinted title Love & Friendship) I didn't really feel the need to catch it.  Nothing about the film, not the actors nor the trailers, called out to me in a major way.  However, like a number of things in life, I ended up seeing the film because a relative wanted to catch it (and it was my mom's birthday present), so on a random Tuesday afternoon I decided to reenter the world of Jane Austen.

(Spoilers Ahead) The plot, for anyone who knows Austen, is charming and delightful but the kind that you'll see coming a mile ahead of time.  We have Lady Susan (Beckinsale), a scandalously flirty widow who has come to stay with the relatives of her late husband after being rather unceremoniously thrown out of a friend's house (where Lady Susan was having an affair with her husband).  The movie follows Lady Susan, who is seemingly always causing mischief for herself with her dear friend Alicia Johnson (Sevigny), and watches as she catches a younger man and her sister-in-law's brother Reginald (Samuel), who at first was skeptical of Lady Susan but eventually "ardently admires and loves her."  As Lady Susan is not Elizabeth Bennett, though, she ends up ruining the relationship and Reginald ends up marrying her daughter, while Lady Susan gets pregnant with her lover and is forced to marry the oblivious Sir James (this film's Mr. Collins, though here he's loaded).

The movie reminded me of something I'd kind of forgotten from the last decade-I don't really like Kate Beckinsale.  Remember when she, along with Josh Hartnett, came sailing into our lives with Pearl Harbor and every teenager who saw the picture was crushing on one of them?  Well I was gay, in the closet, and madly enamored with Josh Hartnett's ridiculously gravelly voice (I didn't get the appeal of Ben Affleck to her at all-that love triangle would have been a straight line) and thought Beckinsale "can't act" (I want to say that might have been the first time I took such a fervent stance against an actor as a budding film critic).  Suffice it to say, she hasn't really won me over in the years since, and here she's got her British accent out, but I'm not impressed.  Her role as Lady Susan is so vastly overshadowed by actors more gamely embracing the role like Chloe Sevigny or Stephen Fry as her wry husband, and I just wasn't impressed.  She clearly is enjoying herself and the film itself is not bad, but Beckinsale isn't a strong enough actor or comedian to make this film as bubbly as some of those mid-1990's period pieces.

Still, it's not the worst way to spend a Tuesday afternoon, and the film is funny, I'll grant it that (again, Sevigny's ridiculous back-bending to have a place in all of the drama is heavenly).  Overall, I'm guessing had this come out during the Austen heyday it would have been a sizable hit (it's odd they didn't go with this instead of the drier Mansfield Park).  Still, it pales in comparison to the heights Austen has taken before, and overall is really only for a Tuesday afternoon.

Those are my thoughts on this feather-light, but pleasant enough movie.  If you've seen it, give me your reviews below in the comments-and if not, share some of your thoughts on Kate Beckinsale, a movie star that really never became a household name like she was clearly meant to be.

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