Rarely do I get to employ the word “delectable”, so I’m relishing the opportunity to utilize it here. It was one of the first ones to pop into mind, as I took in the triumph that is Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship”. What a summer tonic for those who are tired of a multiplex filled with battling superheroes and cartoon fish! Whit Stillman’s latest, is a sumptuous 18th century comedy of manners, and it supplies the glamorous Kate Beckinsale, with the role of her career as Lady Susan Vernon. If you thought Mr. Stillman was only partially successful with 2012’s “Damsels in Distress”, after his 14-year hiatus from behind the camera, this is a remarkable return to form. And for Ms. Beckinsale, one of the rare occasions she can truly showcase her wares, without the flamboyance of battling werewolves and vampires. She’s superb.
Lady Susan Vernon (Ms. Beckinsale), is a recently widowed mother, who attempts to lock in her radar on a wealthy husband for her daughter, Frederica (a very good Morfydd Clark)–before they both go broke. Lady Susan is beautiful, arch, flirtatious, and intelligent, and her attitude and demeanor bring her into contact with a number of eligible men. They include handsome Reginald DeCourcy (a dashing and well-cast Xavier Samuel, so perfect in the recent “Frankenstein” from Bernard Rose), and the doltish Sir James Martin (a hilarious Tom Bennett). Just who is the perfect match for Frederica, becomes a bone of contention between the girl and her attractive mom, as the young girl declares at least one of them “not husband material”. Also, the men appear to be quite charmed and beguiled by the beautiful widow herself, as we begin to ponder who will end up with who. It’s all a rich and humorous delight, with a number of sly touches, and a deep and spirited cast.
Writer/director Stillman had cast Ms. Beckinsale in his 1998 “The Last Days Of Disco”, and he really does her a great service by returning to her for this meaty and sumptuous role. She gives a marvelous and unique performance. Chloe Sevigny, Kate’s 1998 co-star for “Disco”, scores here as well, to a somewhat lesser degree, as Lady Susan’s American friend, Alicia Johnson. The film is based on a Jane Austen novella entitled “Lady Susan”, and Mr. Stillman just may have turned in the finest work of his career with this fifth feature. It’s important to note, that “Love & Friendship” also happens to be the most atypical work on Whit’s resume. But it’s a smart, funny, mature delight, with some highly stylistic scenes and scenarios. Stillman obviously still has so much to offer, as he continues to prove that the promise shown in his 1990 “Metropolitan” debut, was certainly no fluke.