The first reviews from Sundance Film Festival are in — and it looks like Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship is a hit! :) A brief summary of the reviews published so far below:
David Jenkins, Little White Lies:
Whit Stillman returns — and on absolute peak form — with this drastically delightful Jane Austen adaptation. [—] Kate Beckinsale astonishes as what Rose from Damsels in Distress might have referred to as a “playboy” or “operator” type, a maven of social manipulation named Lady Susan Vernon who is introduced to us in a top-to-toe black combo replete with ostentatious feathered plumes. [—] On a technical level, it’s up there with the likes of Eric Rohmer. The illusion of frivolity, where levity and absent-mindedness help to flesh out delicate philosophical intimations, plus the comic discrepancy between what a character says and what he/she is really clearly thinking, are all cap-doffs to the late French master. And praise does not come higher than that.
Noel Murray, The Playlist:
Lady Susan was an unusual heroine for Austen, in that she’s manipulative and casually cruel — qualities more common in her villains. But she’s perfect for Stillman, who’s always had a way of finding the humanity within the self-absorbed. Aside from Bennnett’s scene-stealing comic performance as the impossibly witless Sir James — a chap who’s confused by the Vernons’ home at Churchill because there’s no church and no hill — the fun of Love & Friendship comes from watching Beckinsale behave abominably and then get affronted when anyone calls her on it.
Anthony Kaufman, Screen Daily:
Stillman’s script is filled with sharp wit, much of it deployed superbly straight-faced by Beckinsale’s Lady Susan. A few gems include remarks such as “facts are horrid things” and chastising her friend for marrying a man who is “too old to be governable and too young to die.” Lady Susan is a Queen Bee and the meanest of mean girls, but a joy to watch because of it. [—] Another highlight is Bennett (to be seen in Christopher Guest’s upcoming Mascots), whose gleefully awkward blockhead enlivens the stiffness of the proceedings. [—] Stillman keeps the camera and blocking here as restrained and repressed as the clipped emotional states on display. There is not an ounce of flourish to the filmmaking, but that’s always been the director’s aesthetic. His embellishments come in subtler forms, with witty dialogue and memorable characters—traits that Love and Friendship offers in abundance.
Kyle Smith, The New York Post:
I don’t want to pre-judge next month’s release Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but Whit Stillman may have fashioned the finest Jane Austen movie this year: the delightfully droll Love & Friendship, based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan, which reunites Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, friends since Stillman paired them on The Last Days of Disco. [—] It’s a misfortune that Stillman and Austen were born in different centuries, but Love & Friendship is a perfect match of two sly observers, each with the capacity to be at once cruelly satirical to, and fond, of, their creations. [—] Beckinsale and Bennett are each superb as queen and pawn, with Stillman’s arch style making her blithe solipsism as hilarious as Sir James’s manchild daftness. In short: reader, Love & Friendship is a most particular pleasure.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:
Cheeky in its approach as well as spirited and good-natured, this enterprising adaptation of the author’s relatively unfamiliar early novella Lady Susan remains buoyant through most of its short running time but lacks the stirring emotional hooks found in the best Austen works, on the page as well as the screen.
Justin Chang, Variety:
Stillman has been devising elaborate comedies of manners since his 1990 Sundance-premiered debut, Metropolitan, and while Austen’s plotting lends him the sort of intricate, well-tooled narrative machinery that has eluded some of his more free-form verbal farces (including 2012’s captivating Damsels in Distress), the style of the telling remains recognizably his own. He takes the inherent sophistication of Austen’s worldview and introduces just the right note of sly, self-deflating mockery, starting with his technique of regularly pausing mid-scene to introduce his dramatis personae with names and tongue-in-cheek character descriptions — a helpful acknowledgment of the difficulty in keeping track of so many interconnected lords and ladies. [—] The ingenuity of the adaptation lies not only in its distillation of Austen’s formal prose into an arch yet accessible idiom, but also in the way he plays with the characters’ at-least-partial awareness of their own absurdity. [—] Lady Susan is an altogether more slippery creation, and Beckinsale, coolly imbibing one of the most satisfying screen roles of her career, lends the character an edge of ironic self-appreciation.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:
This is the sort of movie that isn’t afraid to use the phrase “Dramatis Personae,” or to ask us to keep these aristocrats and their various relationships straight, but Stillman’s fleet and funny adaptation makes following these entanglements (and understanding the strict social rules regulating everyone’s behavior) a pleasure. [—] In the same way that Stillman has brought the courtliness of another era to his modern stories, Love & Friendship sees him putting a contemporary twist on venerable material, down to a third-act twist that suggests behavior that’s anything but chaste. Were she around today, Miss Austen would, I think, smile upon this adaptation. And then she might add the upcoming Blu-ray of Stillman’s Barcelona to her Amazon wish list.
So, in other words, much appreciation for Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s writing, and rave reviews for Kate Beckinsale in particular. :) Hope you’re as excited for this as we are!!