Movie Review - Love & Friendship

The title is ironic, I suppose. The main character operates in ways that seem counter to love and friendship. Those two things don't appear to be her pursuit. She's all about wealth, power and status. It's not too much of a surprise because this movie is an adaptation of a Jane Austen book. Like a lot of Jane Austen books or stories based or set in Austen's time period, the late 18th and early 19th centuries, wealth, power and status aren't pursuits as much as they're concerns or key and constant considerations. The concerns are always secondary to the more important ideals of love and friendship. However, here, it's the reverse. Love and friendship are secondary or not even factors at all. If anything, this film works as a satire or spoof of Austen's stories, but some satirization of that old-world culture was probably Austen's original intention and not just the purveyance of writer-director Whit Stillman.

It's a good time for this film to be released. With the upcoming Equity starring Anna Gunn, it seems as if the film landscape is ready for anti-heroines. In other words, the protagonist is female and not someone you necessarily like. She does bad things but yet the film remains mainly on her side. She lies. She manipulates people. She doesn't care about them. She only wants to do what she can to further herself.

Kate Beckinsale (Underworld and The Aviator) stars as Lady Susan Vernon, a widow and single mother to a teenage daughter. Finances seem to be running low, so she needs to hitch herself to another man. Another option is for her to marry her daughter to a man of means. Her daughter is Frederica, played by Morfydd Clark. She decides to visit some relatives in the country. While there, she juggles several potential suitors both for her and her daughter.

The majority of the comedy and the majority of the writing are concentrated on two things. One is Beckinsale's dialogue or monologues. Lady Susan spells out her manipulative, conniving and unsympathetic feelings to her co-conspirator Alicia, played by Chloƫ Sevigny. The bluntness and callousness or else matter-of-fact nature that she has but delivered in long-winded yet prim-and-proper speeches are one concentration in this movie. The other concentration is just the foolishness and idiocy of Sir James Martin, played by Tom Bennett. He's funny, but he seems to be a centerpiece of which Stillman is quite, smugly proud.

The problem is that both things, Lady Susan's dialogue and Sir James' stupidity, began to feel like shticks with which the film keeps hitting the audience over the head. The film bludgeons us with these shticks. It got to the point that that's all the movie was. It was just shticks in sacrifice of developing characters or telling a fleshed out story. As a result, nothing felt authentic or genuine.

That could have been acceptable. This movie could have been acceptable as a farce, or a comedic romp with the manipulative Lady Susan at the center. Unfortunately, it's somewhat boring. I had a similar problem with this movie as I did with Nightcrawler (2014). It's boring because the main character comes up with a scheme and executes it with little to no resistance. It never feels like a struggle for Lady Susan. She breezes right through. She gets away with things so easily.

There is potential resistance. There is potential for her to struggle, but it ends up being only lip-service. Any potential threat to Lady Susan's plans are brushed aside and have no real consequence in the narrative or to her. If there's no real consequence, there are no stakes, no conflict, no drama. Therefore, it makes me not care or invest in anything happening.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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