REVIEW: Love & Friendship

28 05 2016

Love & FriendshipPeriod pieces, particularly ones set in Victorian-era England, are a well-documented displeasure of mine. Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship,” however, represents one such film that did not entirely rub me the wrong way. And for once in my fraught relationship with costume films, the pleasure derived scarcely at all from historicizing present issues.

Rather, the joys of watching “Love & Friendship” come from Stillman vividly placing his characters on spectrums which we still recognize. The throughline of acerbic verbal barbs from Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan to vicious celebrity subtweets seems quite prevalent, as does her constant scheming and manipulation follow logically to someone like a Regina George. The characters of Jane Austen, the author from whose novella the film derives, are not some kind of mummified specimens. Stillman finds them quite alive and relevant.

The majority of the action (of which there is copious amounts for a film lasting only 90 minutes) centers around the recently widowed Lady Susan as she plays virtually everyone in sight off of each other. The purpose, of course, is to maintain her own status and perpetuate it by finding a suitable match for her daughter. Many are aware that she is up to something, though few fully realize the extent to which she plays catty games in high society realms.

It can be a little taxing to keep up with the entire cast of characters, especially given that Stillman introduces them briskly with cut-aways to them standing motionless with a brief description of their role. Eventually, we can figure out who’s who, just as we can translate some of the old English vernacular. The work is mostly worth the hassle, although I find it somewhat ironic that such effort is required to access the pleasures of “Love & Friendship” which are mostly rather simple – the cutting remark, the wry observation, the genius social maneuver. B-2stars

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