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
Both Larita and Marion are seen reading "Lady Chatterley's Lover," which was not published in England until 1960 (the film is set in the late 1920s or early 1930s). (Of course, Larita could have brought the book with her from the Continent.) See more »
Jessica Biel earns major respect here for taking on a very ambitious task. "Easy Virtue" marks the first time she headlines her own movie, acting alongside powerhouses like Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. It's based on a stage play by Noel Coward, which coincidentally was first produced in New York in 1925. Usually I hear the words "stage play from 1925" and I want to quickly build and jump into a time machine but the movie is not only painless but it's absolutely lovable at the same time.
Biel plays Larita, a young American widow in the 1920's making her living as a motorist. She's the first woman ever to win the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, a feminist long before her time, which attracts the attention of Brit John Whittaker (Ben Barnes). It isn't long before the two are married and he's taking her home to his family's country manor. The matriarch of the house is Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), an icey, uppity, bitter woman who never lived much of a life of her own and sees Larita as a gold digger and a whore before she even gets to the house. Larita can tell that her mother-in-law doesn't like her and tries very hard to adapt but only alienates herself further in the process. John's father (Colin Firth), a Colonel in World War 1, is the only one who cuts her any slack. He can't stand his family's stuffiness either and sees Larita as a kindred spirit. A battle of one-ups-man-ship soon takes over the house as Veronica desperately tries to get rid of Larita, who refuses to back down.
The point of the play was a counteraction to British smugness and director Stephan Elliott, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheridan Jobbins, keeps that basic principle intact. In Larita, summer has found its unlikely hero, a woman who goes by the beat of her own drum, has a strong sense of self, and a backbone. Biel is dazzling in the lead role, contributing a strong will, good comic timing, and an uninhibited playfulness that makes her even sexier. When Larita tangos in front of the family, you can feel the "F You" that she's laying down. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as her uptight and scheming foil and Colin Firth is a pro at delivering witty quips as well as digging deeper to communicate the things that haunt the character, whether they be World War 1 or his own family.
The one-liners come fast and frequent. There are also some very wicked bigger laughs, most of which involve Larita's un-candid sexual nature. A panty-less can-can during a war widows revue is a howler. Another big laugh involving a dog will make animal lovers cringe for sure. "Easy Virtue" is a comedy that works, one of the funniest I've seen all year long. The costume design is very good and the manor looks like a nice enough place to spend 2 hours of your time. It's only when Elliott turns on the musical soundtrack, with tunes old enough to make Frank Sinatra look and sound like Eminem, that the movie really starts to show its age. But no matter. If you're looking for a smart comedy with some really excellent performances, "Easy Virtue" is truly virtuous.
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