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

REVIEW: Damsels in Distress

26 12 2012

I think my quibble with “Damsels in Distress” is with the very style of film it tries to be.  For all I know, it may be a good comedy of manners.  But I never read any Oscar Wilde or Moliere in school, so I have no context in which to place this film.  Sorry, folks.

What I can tell you is that I found myself irked quite often by Whit Stillman’s film, which seemed to be a meandering mess made bearable only by the occasionally witty and insightful quip.  The words have a pop that I feel like would be better appreciated on a page.  On screen, they just don’t have much impact.

I also think that has something to do with the fact that the energy of the actresses in the film feels like that which you’d find at a first table read.  It never felt like anybody was saying, emoting, or feeling their lines.  They were merely reciting them.  Although in the case of Greta Gerwig, it sort of worked since she has that sort of non-emotive, frumpy hipster aura about her.  But for everyone else – no.

Honestly, I think my favorite part of this movie might have been the brief Aubrey Plaza cameo.  As one of the patients at the “suicide prevention” clinic run by the four main girls of the film, she got more laughs out of me than the rest of the film did combined.  If “Damsels in Distress” tried to say anything else or get me to care about any of the other characters, it didn’t work.  C2stars