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Love & Friendship

At its heart, “Love & Friendship,” Whit Stilman’s adaptation of a previously unpublished Jane Austen novel, is a con-man (or, in this case, con-woman) flick.  It should appeal to fans of movies like “Matchstick Men” or “The Brothers Bloom” as much as those of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.”  It’s smart, and funny, and the costumes and sets are lovely.  It might be the perfect date movie.

It probably ought to be subtitled “…are useful tools to get what you want, or at least avoid poverty.”  Kate Beckinsale (who is fantastic, proving that her verbal dexterity is at least a match for the physical dexterity she’s put on display in all those terrible vampire movies) plays our main character, Lady Susan, and like most of Austen’s heroines, she is dangerously close to destitution and ill repute. Her husband has passed away and left her with nothing but debts, and the number of gracious relatives willing to take her in had dwindled because of her, shall we say, flirtatious behavior. Whenever I read Austen, I can’t help but think about how quickly and easily an Austen heroine could become a Dickens or Hugo tragic figure. It’s hardly ever mentioned, but Austen’s women are always perched on the very edge of the abyss.

But of course nobody ever acknowledges the abyss, least of all Lady Susan, who may have a reputation for being a flirt, but most certainly has a very sharp and calculating mind. She also has a daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) in need of a husband, and has a suitor in mind — the hilariously dim Sir James (Tom Bennett, who steals every scene he’s in.)But Frederica is (understandably) not happy with the match, and perhaps has a scheme of her own up her sleeve. (Or does she?)  Susan has her own eye on the rather stiff but amiable Reginal DeCourcy, but first she must convince him that a)she’s not the wanton woman everyone thinks she is and b)to go against his family’s wishes and marry a much older woman. Also, there’s an interrupted affair with a certain Lord Manwaring she’d like to find a way to resume.  Ah, Austen.  So many threads, so much potential for comedy.

“Love & Friendship” is too clever by half, and that’s what makes it so much fun. When the credits rolled, I wasn’t exactly sure who had played who, and how. Did Lady Susan control her daughter’s fate, or did the pupil best the teacher at her own game?  I’m still not sure. What I know was that I had a great time watching the wheels turn, trying to guess who was up to what and why.  Everybody gets something they want – though not everything – by the end.  That’s what makes it a comedy.  That, and the fact that it made me laugh.  A lot.

 

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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