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Set in the 1790s, Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica.
There's something very satisfying about a period piece that actually feels like a film that lives in another time and place. While Love & Friendship certainly isn't the thinker or entertainer that most of the films released in May, it has its fair share of laughs and uses its gorgeous locales and famous source material to its benefit as much as it can.
I don't consider myself the avid Jane Austen reader or fan of the media adaptations. In fact, I usually don't care for them much at all, but with rave reviews and a heavier reliance on comedy than romance, I decided to give Love & Friendship a shot. For the most part, it's an enjoyable film. I don't know how closely the writers attempted to stay to Austen's work, but one of the main issues to the film is the overabundance of characters. We are introduced to almost every single character within the first few minutes via opening credits, and it became overwhelming as a viewer.
I caught on to the characters after a while, but trying to remember everyone's names was quite the challenge, especially when they all talk, dress, and look relatively the same. With that said, it's far and away Kate Beckinsale's film as she plays the infamous Lady Susan Vernon. The story mainly focuses on Vernon's attempt to give her daughter and herself a new match, after being recently widowed. If not for anything else, Love & Friendship is entertaining just to purely watch Lady Susan manipulate just about everyone she crosses. The beauty being that you don't truly know if she's being manipulative or sincere, which is why the abundance of characters actually works in the film's favor.
Distracting the audience with new characters scene to scene keeps our attention away from what Susan is up to, hence surprising us with the next reveal. I can't say I was all that invested in the story itself, as it sometimes falls under the clichéd-romantic genre, but watching Beckinsale and the others have fun with the source material proved to be worth a viewing.
I also appreciated the film's keen sense of humor at just the right moments. There are moments when the comedy could steer towards over-the-top, but veteran director Whit Stillman kept it from getting out of hand. In all, if you're into Jane Austen or period piece romantic dramas in general, Love & Friendship is probably for you. If not, perhaps the humor and performances can reel you in.
-A lot of characters can muddle the plot at times
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