Love & Friendship (2016)

Love and Friendship

It’s a wonder that Whit Stillman didn’t adapt Jane Austen sooner. Much like Austen’s novels, Stillman’s films, including the wonderful Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco, are comedies of manners. They rely on verbal wit and social decorum to provide conflict for their narratives. His latest, Love & Friendship, adapted from Austen’s novella Lady Susan, is a fitting marriage of artistic sensibilities.

Love & Friendship follows Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan as she works to arrange an advantageous marriage for her quiet daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). The vast majority of the film takes place in drawing rooms, where Susan manipulates in-laws and friends in order to arrange an ideal match.

If Love & Friendship is more callous than the average Austen, it still has its fair share of warmth, mostly supplied by the sublime comedy of Tom Bennett as simpleton suitor, Sir James Martin. He is a man of rapturous stupidity and awkward physicality. For instance, he marvels over the discovery of green peas on his plate and hops around like a prancing bunny during a formal dance. He’s the standout character in a film full of intriguing ones. However, Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan is not to be outdone. She is wonderful and carries the film effortlessly with her charms.

Still, for all the film’s pleasures, it could’ve been great if Stillman knew how to move and position a camera. He shoots in stationary medium wide throughout the entirety of the film, as if caged in by the confined quarters of his locations. As well, each scene is an ellipsis, rarely than a full sentence. Scenes rarely last more than two minutes, and Stillman does nothing to transition from one scene to the next. The effect is to make the film airless. Being airless is great for sustaining the pace of verbal wit, but it squeezes out any chance of greater resonance. In the end, Love & Friendship is a delightful little dollop of a film, but it’s more an example of clever writing than great filmmaking.

7 out of 10

Directed by Whit Stillman; written by Whit Stillman based on Lady Susan by Jane Austen; starring Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Justin Edwards, Jenn Murray, Stephen Fry, and Chloë Sevigny.

About Aren

Aren likes big movies and he likes small movies. He'll sing the praises of the latest Hollywood sci-fi epic while simultaneously lambasting people for not getting into Hong Kong cinema. He detests egotism in film and film criticism, but is a sucker for earnest spectacle. While he tends to skew more modern in his viewing choices, he thinks film looks best in black and white, especially when directed by Akira Kurosawa. His favourite genres are science fiction and animation, but he'll watch anything so long as it's interesting. He's a prairie boy, born and raised. When he's not writing about movies, he's making them. You can watch his 2013 sci-fi short QUANTOM here: http://vimeo.com/66512643. His email is arenbergstrom@gmail.com. His favourite movies are 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), BEN-HUR (1959), BLUE VELVET (1986), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001), MINORITY REPORT (2002), PSYCHO (1960), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), SPIRITED AWAY (2001), and STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). His favourite directors are Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Johnnie To.