LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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love and friendship

When I first saw the promos for Love & Friendship at the Angelika in March I would have never thought that Jane Austen, the authoress of classic novels like Pride and Prejudice, would also have penned something this delightfully wicked and gleefully sociopathic as Lady Susan, the novella on which Whit Stillman’s new movie is based on. If you can think of the most ridiculous characters in any of her books — many of them gratuitous social climbers of the day — and lumped them together into one cohesive screwball comedy, then you have the resulting movie which I was able to see last Friday.

The story goes as follows: Lady Susan Vernon, the recent widow of Lord Vernon (a character referred to on occasion but never seen as he has passed on) seems to sow trouble wherever she goes. As she doesn’t have a house proper, she’s like a vine, setting root wherever the bricks are naked. It seems she’s started some trouble with the Mannering family and has to leave in a hurry to go to Churchill Estate where her relatives live while the rumors of her own reputation as a flirt and a homewrecker simmer down. She isn’t even with her foot in the door when she’s already set her sights on the much younger and soon to be heir to the estate Reginald deCourcy, a matter that needless to say, preoccupies Sir and Lady deCourcy who clearly disapprove. What Lady Susan doesn’t anticipate is that her daughter Frederica also arrives at Churchill and of course, while she’s at it to find herself a husband to secure her position in society she also tries to find Frederica a match. In comes Sir James Martin, a man who really is an absolute idiot, and Lady Susan decides that’s the man for Frederica (while she’s spinning her web around Reginald, who is smitten with her, a thing not tolerated well by his sister Catherine). Sitting in the wings like a spider is Lady Susan’s good friend Lady Alicia Johnson, herself married to a man “too old to govern and too young to die”, who is as immoral as Lady Susan — they might as well be sisters, they are so alike and literally complete each others’ sentences. As Lady Susan plots, Lady Alicia abets and conceals, people suffer left and right, and we wonder how this entire mess will all end, or will it end well for anyone?

https://youtu.be/KhvyupqNhL8

Interestingly enough, Jane Austen must have liked the character enough and had a sense of humor that her novella didn’t go the way of punishing Lady Susan (or Lady Alicia, for that matter), but had them simply appear to stop communication (at least in the movie — I haven’t read the novella). Whit Stillman’s movie is a bubbling mass of comedic energy held up by pitch-perfect performances by Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, two actresses I would have never once considered more than “apt” who make the movie their own and then some, as Lady Susan and Lady Alicia, respectively. For its brief running time Love & Friendship whizzes along and it at times becomes almost a game of playing who’s on first with the sheer volume of participants and what one does to the other, but then again, Austen’s characters are well-written creatures who don’t just sit in the background but have something to add to the plot –or shall I say, multi-level plot. I believe it’s a first, however, to have a woman closer to Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (a novel that wouldn’t hit publication until the mid 19th Century), call the shots here. Either Austen was a visionary or she had some malice within her and decided to have fun for a while, truth of the matter is, this is a story that for the time was ahead of its time. Women — heroines, if one should say so — just didn’t behave in a manner closer to the Marquis de Sade without the attention to pain and sexual depravity. This is closer, much closer, to the epistolary novel by Chorderlos deLaclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, where the main character openly and unabashedly manipulates everyone within her reach to achieve her needs. It’s just lighter in tone . . . and less tragic.

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