Love & Friendship23 May 2016
There are a few moments at the beginning of Love & Friendship when title cards float across the screen in quick succession, introducing characters with pithy descriptions. I wondered for a second, am I supposed to know who these people are or why they matter? Is this like when I saw Captain America: Civil War and missed some of the first act references because it had been a while since I’d seen Age of Ultron? Luckily, that turns out not to be the case. Characters, at least the ones that matter, are winnowed down over time and managed mostly through dialog and plotting, rather than exposition. And really, when you come to see this film, you come for the dialog and plotting. But you might stay for the set and costume design. And the superb performance from Kate Beckinsale.
Beckinsale carries the film. She is surrounded by some broad shouldered men but make no mistake, she can turn them all on her dainty little finger. The scenes between her and Chloë Sevigny are brilliant. Their delicious gossip is all the more delicious because you feel like you’re in on it with them. The film also has something of a frog boiling in a pot of water feel to it. By that I mean, the humor gets broader, louder and funnier as the film goes on. What started as giggles in the theater turned into outright guffaws by the final act. For a film about conservative 1790s aristocracy, I had about as much fun watching it as I did watching Keanu earlier this month. That’s not small accomplishment.
I’m not as familiar with other works from Stillman but from what I gather this Austen adaptation was something of an inevitability. In some ways, then, I’m glad this was my introduction to him. I look forward to going back into his archives to see what other ways he has adapted, interpreted and modernized Austen’s writing, whether focusing on the humor, the class politics, the moral absolutism, or something else entirely.