Monday, April 6, 2009
Easy Virtue **
Director: Stephan Elliott
Cast: Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes
Kimberley Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall
Meeting the in-laws for the first time has been a timeless reason for awkwardness, fear, hope and when it comes to plays and movies: comedy.
Larita (Biel) is a glamorous American widower who has just won a race car Grand Prix when she meets and marries, British aristocrat, John Whittaker (Barnes). The fast nature of their love-at-first-sight-relationship is such that it occurs during the opening credits.
After that it's off to meet the Whittaker family whose very British customs, especially those of matriarch Veronica (Scott Thomas) will obviously clash with Larita's upbringing and beliefs.
Based on an early play by Noël Coward, director Stephan Elliott's adaptation tries to spice things up by injecting dashes of modernity to a plot that occurs in the 1920's with results that don't work in any time setting.
Visually the film results beautiful and engaging (everything Biel wears is breathtaking) and the work of art direction and cinematography recall recent British films set during the world war eras.
The screenplay on the other side feels botched and forced, Elliot's adaptation removes what one would guess were traces of Coward's work and replaces them with all too obvious jokes delivered by the ensemble as if they were always expecting the cheesy cymbal clash used in bad stand up comedy.
The entire movie is filled with situations so vulgar that you know these characters would never have come close to being part of.
It doesn't help much that the quality fo the actors is all over the place (especially when their characters are so disperse as well) Biel, who looks gorgeous (even if the blonde color looks odd on her) can't deliver a charming joke even if her life depended on it, Barnes, who is often saved by his boyish looks, can't muster any trace of sexuality, or even masculinity, to make us understand what this allegedly wild woman saw in him (his character is also always singing which on the first occasion is rather enticing, but later becomes annoying and weird).
Firth who plays the Whittaker father, doesn't care much to even seem like he's in the film and Nixon and Parkinson, who play his daughters could've as well been played by the sisters from Disney's "Cinderella".
This all leaves the weigh on Thomas' shoulders, who like her character, has to lift up the entire ensemble into a level where you either love or hate her.
Delivering her lines with snappy confidence and droll resentment, she never falls into caricature which is more than can be asked for in a movie that expects us to laugh at a dog being crushed to death.