In 1924, playwright Noel Coward wrote Easy Virtue. In 1928, a young Alfred Hitchcock adapted it as a silent film. Now filmmaker Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) has brought this comedy of manners to a modern audience.
Elliott’s take on the story takes place in 1928. Jessica Biel plays Larita, an American and the first female racecar driver with a hidden past who has married a young British man. John (Ben Barnes). He brings his new fiancé to the country to meet his stuffy British family where the clashing begins instantly. Specifically it is John’s mom, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), who instantly hates Larita and does nothing to hide this, so Larita and Mrs. Whittaker go head to head to try and prove who’s the more important woman in John’s wife.
John’s sisters waffle on their feelings for Larita, going from loving her to hating her rather quickly. It is only John’s father, Col. Jim Whittaker (Colin Firth), a crushed beaten man who seems to have given up on life, who takes a liking to Larita that never falters. As the story progresses tempers between Larita and Mrs. Whittaker build to a head and Larita and John must decided if they really are meant to be together.
This is a pretty entertaining film that just seems to miss being great. Elliott definitely has a unique eye for the lens that gives this film a great cinematic look. He seems to have a love of mirrors here uses reflection in many shots often to a very visually interesting results. Elliott also brings his own sensibility to Cowards play adding more humor to the story and giving it a more modern feel even though it is set in the ’20s.
Colin Firth shines in this role as the beaten patriarch. He’s scruffy and disgruntled and is complete over of the stuffiness of his wife and daughters. Every time he’s on screen you can’t help but smile.
Basically it all comes down to Biel as to why this film never really rises to the level it should. That’s not to say she is bad here. Honestly, this is probably Biel’s best performance. But Larita is such a strong interesting character that any actress would excel in the role. However, Biel just isn’t that strong an actress and regardless that she brings her A game here, it’s just not enough.
The other problem with Easy Virtue is that John is such a worthless undeveloped character that it’s hard to see why Larita would have fallen in love with him in the fist place.
Regardless of these two issues, this is still a very entertaining film. Firth is a pure joy to watch her and the ending is fantastic and makes it all worth watching.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. This film has a fantastic cinematic look and is very pretty to look at. The transfer looks and sounds great.
Commentary with director Stephan Elliott and writer Sheridan Jobbins: This is an okay commentary. Elliott has a vibrant personality that makes him a joy to listen to. He has humorous anecdotes about the making of the film and about his time with the cast that are actually interesting. I’ve heard a lot of really crappy commentaries in my time, this isn’t one of them.
Deleted Scenes: (5 min.) Typical deleted scenes. They don’t really add anything to the story and it makes sense why they’re cut.
Blooper Reel: (9 min.) This is a really funny Reel. The best is Firth and Barnes reenacting an Eddie Izzard sketch in the library. Hilarious!
New York Premiere Featurette: (6 min.) Interviews with the cast and director and the premiere of the film. This is okay, don’t really know what else to say about it.
This isn’t a great film, but it’s a fun one and is worth watching even if you hate period films like I do. Elliott admits to hating period films too and does everything he can to make this enjoyable. Firth delivers a superb performance and while Biel doesn’t quite pull off Larita as well as she should have, this is probably her best role. And if you’re a fan of Barnes from Stardust or the Narnia films, then it’s fun to see him in this non-fantasy role.
Sony Pictures Classics presents Easy Virtue. Directed by Stephan Elliott. Written by Sheridan Jobbins. Based on a play by Noel Coward. Starring Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity and smoking throughout. Released on DVD: September 15, 2009. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott-Thomas