Jane Austen finally gets her comedy on the big screen. Adapted from her novella, "Lady Susan", Whit Stillman's self-aware LOVE & FRIENDSHIP does the late author justice, though dragging a bit at times.
Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is often described as the "most accomplished flirt in England" -- widowed and with a teenage daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), whose life she tries to control for her own benefit, her current game is playing the system to make a married man jealous. She does this by flirting with Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), a younger man who is easily swayed -- and simultaneously, trying to set her daughter up with a silly man whom Frederica cannot stand.
Almost immediately, the film is saturated in a kind of self-aware humor, introducing the characters like a Victorian soap opera with little spotlights and titles as they stare off into the distance. The story is not shy in assuming the self indulgence of those in aristocratic society, and the film's ability to laugh at itself continues somewhat sporadically throughout the story, as its protagonist (though certainly not the hero) allows her antics to become more and more ridiculous.
Beckinsale and Clark are superb, as is Chloe Sevigny as Lady Susan's best friend, Alicia Johnson. You will see Stephen Fry pop into the frame a couple of times, as well as Jemma Redgrave -- but the story gives way to a few lesser-knowns who own the screen.
While the situational humor is present and flourishing, there is a certain lack of empathy for the characters -- you never quite get close enough to any of them to do more than sympathize for them. Perhaps it is the way that the form matches the frills on their petticoats, but LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is enjoyable mostly in the way that it ruffles your feathers, providing an opportunity to laugh at these selfish characters' games.
Come check out Jane Austen's humor for yourself -- LOVE & FRIENDSHIP starts at Midtown Cinema on May 27!