Director: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell
All one needs to know about this movie to determine whether or not it will be an enjoyable experience is to know that it’s a 1700s period piece. If that sounds good, then check it out. If not, or you don’t quite know, maybe rent it one day or catch it on TV. And with that preface out of the way, let’s get in depth about ‘Love & Friendship’.
‘Love & Friendship’ stars Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, and Chloe Sevigny, among others, in a film based on the novella ‘Lady Susan’, by Jane Austen. Kate Beckinsale plays the title character of Lady Susan Vernon, a widow with a reputation for manipulation, as she bounces around from home to home, simply living off her connections and whoever is cool with letting her crash there for a couple of weeks. As in all of these types of period pieces, there is a love and romance plot involved, however I can’t really divulge any of the juicy details without spoiling plot points.
‘Love & Friendship’ as a piece works because of two very important aspects that had to be great in order for this film to even be good. The first is the script. The dialogue, which there is a lot of, is sharp and precise, like Aaron Sorkin with a British accent. The writer/director Whit Stillman certainly shows off his writing chops, with plenty of scenes dedicated to understanding thought processes about his characters, and making them entertaining as well as subtle. His direction is light, with minimal bravado thrown in, and it comes across as assured and practiced. This movie perfectly encapsulates what the era is, and how best to keep it pleasant and airy without being bogged down by subplot.
The second thing that has to work is the acting, and the acting in this movie is superb. Kate Beckinsale easily turns in the best performance of her career (Sorry, ‘Underworld’) and all of the other, mostly unknown, actors and actresses do excellent in their respective parts. There is a character of mine that is absolutely my favorite, played by a man named Tom Bennett, who every time he came on screen, I felt good about life. He made his scenes easily the best of the film, and I would be content watching a 90 minute movie of this character just going through his day. I would like to see Kate Beckinsale recognised for this performance, because as the script and the focus is mostly surrounding her, she had to carry this movie. And, not really knowing her for anything other than her action work – and how sub-par those movies are – ‘Love & Friendship’ really left me tantalised as to what she will do next. She absolutely deserves all the accolades she may get for this role.
The third part that contributes to the success of a period piece is how much the era stands out in the movie, and the set design and costume design here are Oscar-worthy. There’s no shortage of detail in the ladies’ dresses and other items of clothing, as well as the male…clothing (I don’t know what the things they wore were called). The vivid assortment of lush and vibrant fabrics made the entirety of the runtime look gorgeous, and normally I don’t pay attention to stuff like that, it just slips under my radar. The fact that I noticed sets and costumes in here, and was amazed by them, speaks volumes.
For flaws, there’s not really much that was too appalling. All of the technical necessities are fine, nothing standing out as good or bad. The editing of scenes together feels a little stilted, which was also my main issue with ‘The Jungle Book’. All of the scenes work great individually, but there are moments when the transition feels forced, and the movie doesn’t flow as naturally as it should. This was much more apparent in ‘The Jungle Book’, which came across as somewhat episodic, but in ‘Love & Friendship’ it’s more noticeable, rather than distracting. Aside from that, there’s a few anachronisms – things that during the time period wouldn’t really happen. But that’s for the history buffs to dwell over.
Overall, I recommend ‘Love & Friendship’. It’s got re-watchability because of the sharp dialogue – albeit nonstop dialogue – and the acting is award-worthy. It’s got a few laugh-out-loud comedic scenes, and has chuckles dotted throughout. The story is twisting and unpredictable, and it’s a quiet, pleasant, nice time at the movies.