Wednesday, June 01, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: "Love and Friendship" (2016)



Is this movie?

When I received free passes to see Love & Friendship (based on Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan), I was excited. I loves me some Austen costume drama, and as I hadn't yet read Lady Susan, I was looking forward to being surprised.

Well, I was a little surprised, but I spent most of the film feeling super confused. While the film is occasionally charming and funny (truly funny at moments), the pacing is absurdly drawn out, the staging is dull, and the plot is an incomprehensible mess.

The story (such as I could make out) is this: Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) - an impoverished widow with a scandalous reputation - comes to stay with her in-laws after being kicked out of her last domicile for tarting around with a married man. Once her last suitcase is unpacked, she precedes to spend the next two hours gaslighting hot dudes, ruining her daughter's life, and bitching with her sardonic BFF Mrs. Alice Johnson (Chloe Sevigny).

I think we're meant to root for Lady Susan, the sly and cynical outsider who offers clever observational quips about the follies of gentry life. But she really is The Worst, and what's more, there's no real explanation for her behaviour. She just seems to like messing with people with no apparent end goal or motivation. You might think she's out to catch herself a meal ticket, but she throws away every romantic attachment she appears to make, seemingly on a whim. Perhaps she's determined to secure her daughter's future - except for those long stretches of time when she forgets her daughter exists because she's too busy convincing hapless dudes that Up is Down and Black is White.

What does Lady Susan want? Why does she do what she does? I've never read Lady Susan, so I had no context to understand her myriad changes of heart. Nearly every character in the movie actively hates her and with good reason.

On top of that, despite some truly hilarious moments, the movie is boring and clumsy. Characters are introduced by name (with personalized title cards, even), only to vanish after a single scene without leaving any impact on the story. Several scenes go nowhere or end abruptly.

The filmmakers make no effort to frame the novel's events in a visual context. Instead of showing what happens, the filmmakers have the characters sit down and tell each other what happens - staging that's fine in a novel but glaringly dull on film. Compare that to the Mansfield Park adaptation that starred Frances O'Connor - despite being a wretched representation of the novel, as a film it was visually dynamic and the story was told through an even mixture of action and dialogue.

The actors do the best that they can - Kate Beckinsale, in particular, gives a breezily cunning performance that convinces the viewer she's a misunderstood snarky outcast even as her actions reveal her to be an amoral, manipulative sociopath. It's not enough to save the movie, however.

Perhaps I might have enjoyed this movie more if I'd read the book first. But as a film on its own merits, Love and Friendship is a hot mess. Give this one a pass.