Today, I'm reviewing Love & Friendship. "What is this movie? I've never seen a single trailer for it on the telly," you are 99.9% definitely saying. "Why would I want to see this?" Well, I suppose I could be of some use to you!
Starring Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall), Love & Friendship is based on Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan and is a romantic comedy about love and deception set in Victorian England. Lady Susan (Beckinsale) is looking to wed and stays with her relatives in Churchill to court the much younger Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) whilst juggling domestic affairs with her unhappy daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark, of the stage) and with other suitors.
Not having read Lady Susan, I found the plot occasionally hard to follow. There are several characters to keep track of, and because I was unfamiliar with many of the actors in the film, it was hard to keep track of who was who and who does what. Additionally, the film is relatively slow-paced, making it difficult to connect to the characters at first. Director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) attempts to properly introduce his characters by having them appear in their own extended frames with their names underneath, accompanied by a witty description as if this were a play's program. However, the frames are fleeting and not always useful, though they provide good chuckles.
Gratefully, the film does pick up with plenty of time left, and in the end, Love & Friendship is a fun, witty, independent comedy with great performances. Everyone seems to enjoy the roles they're playing. Kate Beckinsale is rather good as Lady Susan Vernon, a sly and deviously deceptive woman. Luckily, the mix of script and cold performance ensure that the characters' reactions to her actions and biddings are believable, but also make sure that the audience knows she's not a woman to be trusted. However, Beckinsale is not the only standout. Tom Bennett shines as the gleefully stupid Sir James Martin, a delightful mix of Shakespeare's Dogberry and Michael Scott. His performance is so ridiculous, the film is worth seeing for him alone as he becomes involved in the giant love affair as Frederica's "unintended" suitor. "Unintended," for she has fallen for Reginald DeCourcy (Lady Susan's catch). Actors Clark and Samuel have tremendous chemistry as the lovers and are a joy to watch, sometimes outshining Lady Susan's own plots: incredibly likeable heroes in the midst of a farce.
One more thing to note: I very much appreciated Stillman's use of color in the film. The costumes are very bright, as you can see in the slideshow, but the screen aesthetic also plays a role. The film has that mildly dull, period piece look to it, but once a certain event happens at the end of the film, when things come out right (it is a comedy!), the film becomes much, much brighter, almost blindingly so, with light blues and bright yellows coming out. There's also a fun but subtle bit of humor at the end that underscores an innuendo that I thought was clever, but for the sake of you, dear reader, I wish not to spoil with explanation.
In the end, Love & Friendship is a delightful film. The humor is sharp and witty, many thanks to Beckinsale and Bennett's dedicated performances. Despite losing me at times, the film comes together and delivers a fun story of true love and deception. For the most part, you know what you're getting going into this--if you like Jane Austen, you will adore this movie (the six other people in my theater were very much into it); if not, you may find enjoyment. Either way, I feel like it was $10 well-spent. If you catch it someday, you will likely enjoy it. I give Love & Friendship 4 out of 5 stars.