Skip to main content

How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?

Love & Friendship
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I’m no Austenite, unless you count Steve (not the stone cold one, rather the bionic chap), so I probably should have little adverse to say about this creative adaptation of Lady Susan by Whit Stillman (a director I have much admiration for, albeit somehow his last feature, Damsels in Distress, has passed me by, and it’s not exactly as if he has a profuse filmography). But, as garlanded with praise as Love & Friendship has been, and deserving as much of it is, I’m not quite sure the prodigious innuendo packed into the ending’s pants isn’t a little out of place.


I’ll be upfront and admit I was decidedly not bowled over by Kate Beckinsale’s raved-about lead performance. I can’t think of a performance from Kate that did merit raves, though; she’s probably the most nondescript franchise lead in the business (that’s Underworld, just so we’re clear). I seem to recall she was decent enough in Stillman’s Last Days of Disco, but there, as here, Chloe Sevigny made a much more lasting impression.


Beckinsale’s turn is sufficient, but Lady Susan is such a gift of a part, a lofty manipulator of others who believes she’s always right, even, or especially, when she’s flat out wrong (be it misquoting The Bible – which she does frequently – or blaming her own indiscretions on others for reading her conniving mail, mail that is a means to conducting an illicit affair), that someone else would surely have made it truly memorable. This needed an actress who would make Susan’s deceits and indiscretions something to be relished, for all their moral turpitude, but instead we get a delivery that’s as stiff the character’s unlikely eighteen century Botox. Nevertheless, Beckinsale is unable to defeat the best of Stillman’s dialogue:


Man on Street: Lady Susan, Lady Susan!
Lady Susan: How dare you! How dare you address me, sir!
Man on Street: But Lady Susan!
Lady Susan: Be gone, sir, or I will have you whipped!
Alicia: Outrageous! You’ve never met him?
Lady Susan: No, I know him well. I would never speak to a stranger like that.


Lady Susan has been contriving to secure husbands for herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), on the grounds of their precarious financial state (“We don’t live. We visit”). To this end, she hatches all manner of subterfuge and dalliances, pursuing the much younger Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), who is in thrall to her, to the particular disapproval of his father Sir Reginald (James Fleet, outstanding). Sir Reginald has good reason, since – although offscreen – Lady Susan is carrying on with Lord Manwaring (‘a divinely attractive man” as the introductory character sketches wittily inform us), much to the fury of his shrewish wife Lady Lucy (Jenn Murray).


Frederica: You must have notice. He’s very silly.

Frederica, meanwhile, has no desire for her intended, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), “A bit of a rattle”, prone to talking bollocks whenever he opens his mouth, be it on the subject of peas (“How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?”), the art of composition (“Cooper the poet?”: “He also writes verse”) and the Twelve Commandments (told that there are only ten, he misunderstands: “Really? Only ten must be obeyed? Really. Which to take off?”). Bennett runs away with the film whenever he’s on screen, taking evident delight in essaying a silly (very silly) arse. He’s also married into cuckoldry come the conclusion (mother and daughter swap intended in an effectively light-brush manner), informed by Lady Susan the very morning after they wed that she is expecting; it transpires that Lord Manwaring, whom Sir James thinks the world of, has been staying with them for the past week, and will continue to lodge with them.


The jovial buffoon seems to be implicitly awarded his just desserts by a line in which he claims it is fine for a man to have an affair while it would simply be inconceivable for a woman to do likewise; this comes across as Stillman’s hasty justification for the cruel fate he bestows upon Sir James. More than that, though, while I’d never accuse Stillman, the most reserved and mannered of filmmakers outside of Wes Anderson, of ‘sexing up” material, foisting overt innuendo onto Austen’s novel (which the director considered “so flawed”) makes for a scenario that could only really be more explicit if Beckinsale were played by Babs Windsor, Sir James by Charles Hawtrey and Lord Manwaring by Sir Sid of James.


That aside, Love & Friendship is as thoroughly witty, precise and amusingly edited as we’ve come to expect of Stillman, and the constraints of the period piece clearly suit a director who is most comfortable when his surroundings are buttoned down and eccentrically formal.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef