Love & Friendship is a Jane Austen adaptation, and a first of its kind, though we'd all thought that every Jane Austen had already been adapted at least twice. This adapts a book of hers that is written in the form of letters, something that Austen did with Sense and Sensibility too, before rewriting it into what it is today. If I were her, it would have been done for the purpose of figuring out the story in a simple format before I put all the effort into writing them complexly, but I really don't know what her motivations were. Sadly, this story never became a novel, and as such was never touched by filmmakers. Until now.
|Kate Beckinsale, (right) as Lady Susan, and Chloë Sevigny as Mrs. Johnson, her friend and confidant-in-crime.|
Unfortunately I can see why this was the first attempt at an adaptation. I haven't read the book, but from this film it is evident that the source is very limiting; it is obviously an adaptation of information rather than an adaptation of character and feeling. Austen is hard to get right in film, especially to the approval of fans like me, but most of them do understand that it's not about what happens, but about how the characters respond, and how their relationships with others work and develop. The inner working of human character comes first, and what happens is only a result of that. But I think because this film was adapted from information being shared, the inner thoughts of the characters, and their personal experience of the plot's circumstances was almost entirely absent, even though you would expect it from a film. It's not as if the film tries to limit itself; I just don't think it was creatively done enough to change the format of the story from secondhand information to firsthand experience.
|Emma Greenwell as Catherine Vernon, and her (handsome and unattached) brother Reginald DeCourcy -- Xavier Samuel.|
Instead of seeing things happen, we are told about things that have happened. The majority of scenes take place after an event that is important to the plot, where characters stand around and discuss said event. The event itself is rarely a scene; occasionally we get to see it play out in part, but it is invariably explained to a character whether we see it or not. This makes for a lot of scenes that don't have anything happen in them. The progression of location and action of the scenes goes something like this: Arriving at a house; sitting in a room; walking in the garden; sitting in a room; walking to a room and sitting; walking in the street; arriving at a house; sitting in room; standing in a room. It gets very boring very fast. There's one short scene with dancing, but no dialogue. Question: can it really be considered a Jane Austen adaptation if there's no dialogue with the dancing?
|My instinct says it cannot be so!|
All the scenes are very disjointed too, as if the filmmakers were actually trying to avoid the interesting stuff and only show us the in between. What about a dinner scene? Or a whole sequence at the dance? Why must everything be talked about in nondescript locations? Perhaps it was because Jane never gave locations, and they just plain weren't creative enough to think of any on their own. I'm not one for being super creative with Austen's work when everything you need is already there, but that is not the case here. These filmmakers needed to pull together and actually finish the story before they adapted it! This is a rare case where things needed to be changed. And that makes an interesting prospect; what if this story were adapted to film multiple times, and each time the filmmakers wrote the basic story into a totally unique framework? Each film would be so different! I'd love to see that. Unfortunately it's unlikely to happen now.
|Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin was very good. Inside the right film he could have been excellent.|
The critics adored this film, and I'm still scratching my head over that, but it is true that the movie is not all bad. All those sitting rooms and front porches are lovely. The costumes are legitimately good, an earlier fashion from your average Austen that we don't see much of. The characters are interesting (credit: Miss Austen) and the acting is fine. Kate Beckinsale leads as Lady Susan, the title lady of the book. She is good, handling Austen's wit well but not exceptionally. The supporting cast, in my opinion, should have been more than a supporting cast. It seemed to me that Lady Susan's daughter was the heroine of the story, but we really only get to see her when she's around her mother. If her story had been followed we could have got all the development of the story, but instead she was practically ignored and the ending, which was hers, felt very abrupt and extremely unsatisfying. It felt as if nothing had been overcome, and I wanted to identify with the character, but with how little we get to know her, it was impossible.
|Morfydd Clark as Frederica. I enjoyed her the most.|
But I meant to be giving out what praise is due this picture. It had nice lighting and coloring, so the frames weren't as terrible boring to look at as they might have been. I got the distinct feeling though, that once the camera found a nice shot it was afraid to move again. It was pretty, but it was also very static. And that brought down the script too. That was one of the best parts, because it's what came most directly from Austen, but was only occasionally used to full advantage. Watch the trailer and you will every instance that I refer to. Most of the time, the wit and the punchlines were simply breezed over and instantly forgotten. I'm no filmmaker, but I'm pretty sure that if the shots and the staging had been composed around the comedy to enhance it, it would have had a much better effect. No matter how great your script and no matter how great your actors, if you just have them sit still in a room, point a camera at them and have them say their lines, credit to them and to the script will not be done.
|It's really unfortunate that so little effort could result in so little and still get all the praise this film has received.|
For some reason professional critics loved this movie. Maybe they thought it was being artistic. It did have a very distinct, lightly charming tone to it -- that did no more to enhance the film than the pretty chair covers did. And maybe writer/director Whit Stillman thought he was being artistic too. Or maybe he just thought he could get away with this underwhelming amount of effort. In a way, he did. But he also didn't, because this movie is no good. For dedicated fans of Austen and/or period dramas, it may be worth a look provided the price is cheap, but for me, even though I saw it for free, the most I got out of it was a longing for a good adaptation -- and I could have got that easily enough just from reading the book.