Love & Friendship Movie Review
My father-in-law’s analysis of Love & Friendship sums up the new Jane Austen adaptation well: it would be better suited as a play I wouldn't watch. Despite a strong performance by Kate Beckinsale and a witty, genre-defying screenplay, the movie is still an inaccessible costume drama that may appeal to certain [and generally older] audience segments and cinephiles, but few others.
A couple of my critic pals describe Love & Friendship as “brilliant”--and that's fine, as they are entitled to their opinion--but don't confuse “brilliant” with “you need to see this movie.” The screenplay is tight and rich, with many layers of nuance and sharp wit that may be so sharp you won't pick up on half of it. Love & Friendship is, admittedly, one of the funnier and smarter costume dramas in recent memory. And the acting is good, with Kate Beckinsale delivering a career-reviving performance, even if it's sort of buried by the restraints of the genre. And director Whit Stillman executes the story with refreshingly lively vigor, though again you can only do so much when your characters are standing around spouting out lines from a Jane Austen novella.
So, from a critic’s point of view, there is a lot to like.
For us average Joe Schmoes, for the 95% of us whose eyes roll at the very thought of sitting through a costume drama where a bunch of British accents say smart, smarmy things because that's what the movie is about and nothing more, that isn't enough.
Because Love & Friendship is still a costume drama, and even a good costume drama such as this isn't a lot of fun to watch.
The movie starts off rough, the first 10 minutes of its thankfully short 90-minute runtime a nearly incomprehensible introduction to the dizzying array of characters who talk about stuff you don't understand. But the movie does pick up once you figure out what the film is about--Kate Beckinsale plays widower Lady Susan, whose sole purpose in life appears to be to arrange financial security for herself and her daughter, no matter how much social manipulation is necessary. The movie certainly presents some funny parts, humorous characters (most notably James Martin, played by Tom Bennett), and delicious zingers, but there are long stretches that aren't all that entertaining--and plenty of humor that apparently went over my head, based on the random chuckles that would occasionally rise up from small parts of the crowd who apparently are much more in tune with overly dry British humor than I am.
The film ends as abruptly as it started, not a great way to go out but a thankful reprieve because by 90 minutes in, I was long done with this little tale.
Love & Friendship is a well made movie, one that is even better than most in the costume drama subgenre. But if you're in the vast majority of people who figured out that costume dramas are rarely worth the time investment, you'll find Love & Friendship to be a brilliant chore of an experience, a dramedy that requires too much effort and patience to truly enjoy. It would work better as a play, but as my father-in-law said, it's a play I wouldn't want to sit through.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.