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Between world wars, the Whittaker's estate is sinking; only the iron will of Mrs. Whittaker staves off bankruptcy while she awaits her son John's return from the continent. To her dismay, he brings a bride: an American widow who races cars. The bride, Larita, thinks she and John will visit and then go to London, where he'll work and she'll race. But John is to the manor born, and mother is nothing if not a master at plans and manipulation. Soon it's all-out war between mother and bride, with John's father, a burnt out veteran of the Great War, in the bride's corner ineffectually. Mother has a plan to join with the neighboring estate; only Larita is in her way. Can't we all get along? Written by
Though not expressly stated, the story gives the impression that Larita is somewhat older than John (she repeated refers to him as a boy). In fact, Jessica Biel is actually younger than Ben Barnes by several months. See more »
When Larita first sees John after the race in Monte Carlo the mechanic in the bottom right of the shot takes his hat off and waves it in the air. A second or so later when she looks back at John, the same mechanic takes his hat off and waves it again indicating the shot was duplicated. See more »
2008 has been a mixed bag thus far as far as character dramas are concerned, with the majority either lacking in any interesting personas and the remainder usually lacking in anything remotely fun about the experience. Thankfully, Easy Virtue takes residence amongst the minority of this year's examples, blending a wonderful ensemble of characters and respective performers with plenty of humour, romance and palpable charm. As a musical per se, which one could place the movie given the role that music plays in its narrative, the music is catchy, but always played in the background to what is going on with characters. So while the numbers certainly don't ever take off, the harmony created between the film's immediate interests always take precedence over the aesthetics, no matter how inviting and well done those elements are implemented. Sure enough, there isn't much in the way of flaws present within Easy Virtue's two hour runtime outside of the fact that it can sometimes drag on in terms of plotting. Nevertheless, despite small pacing problems, Easy Virtue is a wonderfully breezy, and yet hard hitting portrayal of relationships, both temporal and unconditional.
Where each of these sources of love comes from it seems is where the writers seem most interested in exploring; rather than sticking to the genre's more conventional set of rules, the movie instead takes a familiar, albeit refreshing route. Telling the story of Larita (Jessica Biel), an American race-car driver newly wed to love of her life John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) as she moves into her husband's inherited estate for the holidays, Easy Virtue take the romantic comedy and heats things up a little. The centrepiece of the story revolves around the idea that John's English aristocratic family either immediately resents Larita's presence or soon adheres to this mind-frame. This conflict draws most firmly from John's mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) who takes an especially vindictive and callous attitude towards her big-eyed, fresh faced and glamorously intimidating daughter in law.
This relationship, although not falling far from the genre's tree of ideas and structure, nevertheless does well to keep things grounded and believable. Very rarely are theatrics employed to establish the characters' obvious confliction, and as such both grow as the movie wears on, allowing not just drama to unfold from the proceedings, but comedy also. To say that Easy Virtue is a funny movie would be somewhat of an exaggeration; this isn't a comedy by any means, but it's not a straight forward drama or romance either. Instead director Stephen Elliot manages to do what so little directors of the genre actually succeed in implementing; a fine blend of all three ingredients whilst at the same time keeping characterisation consistent and engaging. Again these ingredients are most fully realised in the triangle of mother/son and the new girl in his life, with each ingredient sharing enough screen time to warrant interest; Easy Virtue isn't a funny movie no it's a funny, heart-warming and delightfully engrossing movie with plenty of intelligent drama and aesthetics.
Nevertheless, regardless of genre tagging, and the tricky balancing act involved in handling such a mix, the real potency of heart present that makes Easy Virtue such a joy to watch is simply through its characters and their relationships together. Mentioned above, the centrepiece of this endlessly amusing mix of character is the dynamic between Larita and her new mother in law. What's most interesting about this pairing however doesn't necessarily always reside in their obviously conflictive facades, but within the thematic subtext that each brings to the story regarding lover and son John. Dealing primarily with the complexities of human relationships, and specifically love, the writers explore the different kinds of love and how they are more often than not wrongly interpreted or received. What's most interesting about the central figures then is that each seems to have swapped their traditional roles for the others; ostensibly Larita is seen a gold-digging, naïve lover who is only out for a short jog, whilst Mrs. Whittaker is instead presented as John's unconditional love source, undeniably in it for the long term. This paper thin appearance however is what Easy Virtue sets out to look past, and the results are both rewarding and intriguing, giving ample substance to back up the laughs.
Of course all of this would go to waste if given to less than capable performers to get across not just their own dynamic personas, but the relations and unique chemistry that they share together. Featuring a huge ensemble of recognisable British talents, along with the impressive Jessica Biel, it would take far too long a paragraph to go through each individually and analyse their performances, so I will simply cut a farily large corner and say that the entirety of the cast here do a wonderful job with each of their respective roles. Of notable interest is the always compelling Colin Firth as a rather withdrawn and bored husband, Ben Barnes who plays youthful, energetic and distinctly naïve John to a fine point and Kristen Scott Thomas who often parallels her sombre role in recent French production I've Loved You So Long. All of these performances however are just the tip of what is a surprisingly effective little treat for anyone looking for good adult fun, with plenty of intelligent humour and romance to boot. Sure enough there are some problems with pacing and over-emphasis on theatrical drama at rare occasions that clash with the film's otherwise consistently grounded tone, but these elements are far and few between each of the much more successful moments. Fun, engaging and entirely memorable, Easy Virtue is a rarity these days, so I cannot recommend it enough.
A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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