Tag Archives: Whit Stillman

Film review: Whit Stillman’s ‘Love & Friendship’

Love & Friendship

I am fond of Jane Austen, though I’ve only read two of her novels. I’m a huge fan of Whit Stillman. So when I review his latest effort, Love & Friendship (which looks like it might be the big hit he’s deserved for so long) my perspective is that of viewing Austen-land from Stillman-land. This is probably fairly unusual.

People have noted the similarities between Stillman’s work and Austen’s books from the beginning. Metropolitan, his first movie, is self-consciously Austenian, a point paradoxically emphasized by the main character’s insistence that he’s never read Jane Austen because he prefers to read literary criticism of her. That’s an exquisitely Austenian comment on Austen.

And that’s what we also have in Love & Friendship, based on an Austen novella, Lady Susan. It’s meta-Austen. It tells its story, comments on the story, and laughs gently at its comments. It’s a lot of fun. It might be the perfect movie through which to introduce an intelligent consumer who’s not familiar with Austen’s work (I’m sure there are such people; I’m almost one of them) to her world.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), the main character, is “the most notorious flirt in England.” A young and beautiful widow, we meet her in a silent-movie preface (with subtitles) in which she is driven from the home of a relation, having broken hospitality by seducing the man of the house (she thinks this response shockingly unjust). She then goes to stay with other relations, where she attempts to win a handsome younger man as her own husband while scheming to marry her virtuous daughter off to the stupidest man in England, James Martin (Tom Bennett). Bennett’s scenes are the funniest in the movie – he’s Wodehousian in his affable ignorance. He’s certain there are Twelve Commandments (general ignorance of the Ten Commandments is a running joke in this movie – a comment, I assume, on our own times). Lady Susan is Donald Trumpian in her invincible self-regard and lack of concern for the feelings of others. She’d be unbearable if forces of cosmic justice, acting behind the scenes, didn’t conspire against her machinations – something she would deeply resent if she were aware of it.

I liked Love & Friendship a lot, and suspect I’ll like it more when I’ve seen it a few more times (which I’m sure I will). I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd at the showing I attended – much larger than I expected, and mostly gray-haired, people who I suspect don’t go out to the movies much anymore.

Highly recommended. Not for kids, because much of the humor is sexually sophisticated (though not smutty at all), and because the vocabulary hovers at a high altitude.

The wit of Stillman

On Sunday I watched my weekly Netflix rental, this one a movie I’d only seen once before—Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan.

I’m going to have to buy the whole Whitman trilogy, delightful films that yield increasing rewards with each viewing. Stillman is apparently a Christian of some kind (for years he’s been trying unsuccessfully to do a movie about believers in the Caribbean. Metropolitan opens with the chords of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).

Stillman delights in turning cultural expectations on their heads. In Metropolitan, his first film, he portrays Manhattan “Yuppies” (one character insists they ought to be called “Urban Haute Bourgeouise”) as sympathetic and even mildly disadvantaged. In Barcelona, two American cousins, a businessman and a naval officer, deal with the European narrowmindedness and prejudice. And The Last Days Of Disco, set in Manhattan in a strangely ambivalent time period, celebrates the discotheque as a place of joy and a strange kind of innocence.

At one point in Metropolitan, Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) quotes a Lionel Trilling review of Mansfield Park to debutante Audrey (Carolyn Farina), in order to explain his dislike for Jane Austen. Audrey asks him what books of Austen’s he’s read. He says, “None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists’ ideas as well as the critics’ thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it’s all just made up by the author.” The great joke is that the film itself is pure Jane Austen, though the comedy of manners has been transported to a small fortress of civility in a barbarian land. Continue reading The wit of Stillman