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With Jim Sabatini

Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship
Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Morfydd Clark and Chloe Sevigny

Rated: PG for some thematic elements.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: May 13, 2016 Released by: Roadside Attractions

Whit Stillman's unflappably frivolous predilections go hand-in-hand with an unpublished Jane Austen novel (Lady Susan) at the time of her death.

An archly, cynical costume dramedy Love & Friendship doesn't plumb its characters deeply - it needn't because of the way Stillman (Metropolitan, Damsels In Distress) applies his cultivated esprit in broadening the source material. Some formal character introductions have kookiness to them without dwelling on them or much exposition.

The 1790 U.K. setting is ripe for the maneuvering of personal situations of family and friends to one's asset. And, that would be Lady Susan, a recent widow, evinced with flavorful self-aggrandizing by accomplished British thespian Kate Beckinsale (from Cold Comfort Farm to Serendipity to Contraband and Snow Angels to name a few credits in a varied oeuvre). As time rolls on, Austen is played fairly straight though Stillman enjoys doling out his share of cute aphorisms.

The anomalous cajoling of a rakish, obstinate queen of a lady is the charismatic figurehead in a comedy of manners in sync of with Austen's mocking look at class confrontation and consternation. Among the finely cast supporting players are Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Morfydd Clark (as Lady Susan's daughter and who appeared not so long ago in Pride & Prejudice and Zombies), as well as Beckinsale's off-screen mate Chloe Sevigny (who appeared opposite her in Stillman's The Last Days of Disco) as American friend Alicia Johnson, Fry's missus.

But, the ace in the hole of Love & Friendship may be the pawn looking to move up the ladder in Sir James Martin, effortlessly endowed with silly fatuousness by Tom Bennett. Sir James (whose type of character could have blended well in Damsels) is given more breathing room by Stillman's sentient script and quite decorous production as represented by the aforementioned humorous interpretation of Mansfield Park. The result is an often delightful hardly baggy creative rendering of a well-renowned, often adapted author who's probably laughing with joy at someone who really gets her sense and sensibility.

  Frank Chris Jim Dave Nina Matt Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Love & Friendship  B   B   B+                     B 

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