Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
Directed by: Stephan Thompson
Running time: 95 minutes
Release date: May 22, 2009
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy and Adaptation
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The adaptation of Noel Coward's play is a celebrated costume comedic drama and romantic period piece. Easy Virtue contains all of the elements of a successful love story, but somehow ends up feeling more like a casual fling than a full-blown love affair.
The film takes place in the period of the 1920s, where the most influential and wealthy exploit their lavish lifestyles. In an elegant, laconic tribute to a lost world of drawing-room dramas, Easy Virtue depicts the moralistic, tight-lipped and fundamentally hypocritical society.
Jessica Biel plays the primary role of Larita, an American racing car driver and divorcee who falls in love with a younger upper class Englishman named John Whittaker (Ben Barnes). The lively couple return to his home, which is a large country estate. However, John's starchy family doesn't accept her. John's mother Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) has a great dislike for her new daughter-in-law, and in a series of comedic scenes spars with Larita in order to cancel out the marriage. Mrs. Whittaker is a stern and controlling women who manipulates everyone around her. John's father Mr. Whittaker, played by Colin Firth, is a depressed veteran of WWI. As a somewhat free spirit, he seems to find a Larita a breath of fresh air to a stale household. A host of snobbish family members and friends, portrayed by Kris Marshall, Kimberly Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Pip Torrens, Christian Brassington and Charlotte Riley (Sarah, John's initial fiance), give great supporting performances.
It is evident that in a lead character's position Jessica Biel's effort to play an active and assertive role causes conflict. Biel's performance is too fluffy and flighty in contrast to the witty and intelligent performance of Kristin Scott Thomas. Thomas is a major adversary in most of the scenes. I found the romantic chemistry between Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes to be strained, and lack any sense of realism.
The film takes a turn to a triangular romantic alliance between two men (father and son) and a woman (Larita). This is an ambitious relief in the plot; however, not in the performances. Colin Firth's (Mr. Whittaker) performance as the new love interest of Larita lacked credibility. His character remains too undeveloped and too shallow to have any real resonance. It's still a mystery by the end of the film what Larita sees in such a spoiled immature John. Their relationship feels puzzling rather than electrifying.
The costume design and sets are wonderful to behold, framing the drama beautifully. It's something which is very easy to overlook when it's done correctly, but disturbingly obvious when it's not. In this film it serves as a highlight for the flamboyance of the period that it lavishly decorated.
The extravagant interior sets and costumes are a feast for the eye. It is a shame the same can't be said of Stephan Elliott's plot development. While serving to link disparate scenes together in witty and amusing ways, it's delivery feels clunky and artificial. Easy Virtue lacks the depth and chemistry that a film driven by passion demands and so, like Larita and John's romance, is a mistake.
FILM RATING (C)