Wednesday, 20 July 2016


Transmission Films

Sassy and saucy, we've not seen a Jane Austen heroine quite like Lady Susan Vernon. Not that Austen's oeuvre has been without its share of beeyatches, but they're usually an impediment or rival to the heroine achieving her goal of happy matrimony. They're never the protagonist. And they've never been played on the screen quite as deliciously as Kate Beckinsale.

Adapted by writer-director Whit Stillman, from an unfinished Austen novella titled Lady Susan, Love & Friendship could just as easily have been titled All Is Fair In, for Beckinsale's Lady Susan Vernon is not above doing all that it takes to achieve her aims; that is, financial security for herself, and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), via advantageous marriage. What's love got to do with it?

Duplicitous, adulterous, scheming and conniving, Lady Susan is the antithesis of Elizabeth Bennett, and those who've only ever enjoyed Austen as a witty forebear to the modern rom-com will be a little perplexed to find the villain driving the narrative. And they will be equally as perplexed to find themselves -- against their better nature -- rooting for her.

So delightfully wicked are Lady Susan's observations, asides and put downs, and so perfect are Beckinsale's delivery of them, that you can't help but be won over. Not since My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), where Julia Roberts' famed smile turned maniacal in her attempts to upend that titular event, has the bad girl been so much fun to watch.

It's also a refreshing change to see an Austen heroine subverting both the patriarchy and the author herself. It might be a man's world but Lady Susan knows how to play the menfolk like a fiddle. The women around her know exactly what she's up to but the men, no matter their intelligence, seem oblivious to her scheming.

Well, all but Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry). The husband to Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), best friend and confidant to Lady Susan, has threatened his American wife with a returned exile to the new world should she continue their acquaintance. The likes of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), his brother-in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel, quite fetching in a Regency wardrobe), and the dim-witted but financially-endowed Sir James Martin (a scene-stealing Tom Bennett) are blindsided by Lady Susan's charm and beauty.

Beckinsale, best known for her role in the Underworld franchise and a series of other forgettable actioners, relishes the opportunity she has been gifted by Stillman (whom she worked with 18 years ago on The Last Days of Disco) and Austen, delivering a career-best performance. Trading leather catsuits for Regency costumes has worked wonders for the actress.

Fans of Beckinsale's werewolf franchise may not be so easily converted, but those who seek out Love & Friendship are in for a treat. Period.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


Roadshow Films

Likened to a spiritual successor to one of writer-director Richard Linklater's earliest films, Dazed and Confused (1993), Everybody Wants Some!! also picks up where his previous film, the impressive Boyhood, left off; that film's protagonist, having been followed from the age of six through to high school graduation, leaving home for college.

It's 1980 and three days out from the commencement of the Fall semester at a Texan university when first-year student Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at the off-campus house which he will share with seven other students, all teammates on the university baseball team. A second house of eight ball players is next door.

The coach announces there is to be no alcohol on the premises and women aren't to progress above the first floor but we suspect he knows he's already struck out on both counts. And there's plenty of boozing and some womanizing in Everybody Wants Some!! but this is no frat house comedy. Bad neighbours these guys may be but the film isn't concerned with what goes on in these jocks' jocks: there's far more talk than action, this is a Richard Linklater film after all.

And Linklater is a master of simultaneously capturing both the profound and the mundane in the every day and the passage of time. It's a theme which preoccupies much of his work -- Boyhood, the Before trilogy -- even if Everybody Wants Some!! doesn't quite reach the same heights, particularly emotionally, of those films. Male bonding and its inevitable competitive nature are examined here but there's no scarring or even bruising; Linklater's characters' punches are more prodding than probing and everything occurs in a late summer haze reeking strongly of beer and weed, rendering events more mellow than malicious.

It's fun and ephemeral and might leave you asking 'what was the point of all that?' But then, most booze-soaked long weekends tend to have that effect. The further you get from it the more fondly you may recall it.