One film, two critics and a world of disagreement. Lickona hung on every turn of the page in Whit Stillman’s variation on Jane Austen, Love & Friendship, while Marks wanted to tear out a row of seats in front of him, anything for a distraction. Here’s the tale of the tape. And may the best critic win!
Marks: Call me downturned crabby, but I can’t bear 90% of the current spate of British costumers. Restless leg syndrome began tapping out an SOS just moments after the condescendingly captioned photoplay credits hit the screen. Pictures of fancied up actors reciting Jane Austen’s prose, lit by a team of Allied Vans, and set to the beat of Whit Stillman’s snarky metronome made for the longest 92 minutes of the year. Though shot in Dublin and directed by a Yank, the film somehow managed to renew in me a desire to dig Francois Truffaut out of the grave and give the critic-turned-New-Wave-architect a big French kiss for having once arrived at the perspicacious conclusion, “British cinema is an oxymoron.” Yes, there’s plenty of good acting at its finest to go around, but please don’t gush on about “beautiful cinematography” when the reverse angle lighting doesn’t match during intimate two-character dialogue scenes. Give this one four D’s for being dry, droll, dreary, and drained of romance. You’re gonna love it!
Lickona: Once upon a time, there was an Angry Young Woman named Jane Austen, who savaged English society — in particular, the impossible situation it often presented to the fair sex — by creating Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale, making the absolute most of things), a widow who operates in social circles the way a good general operates in war: playing to one’s own strengths while exploiting the enemy’s weaknesses, turning every setback into a new opportunity for attack, and never betraying a moment’s vulnerability. And who is the enemy? Pretty much everyone involved in the aristocratic experiment, but especially those who stand between her and the triune goods of pleasure, ease, and security. She’s so good at her work that only a few suspect it goes on, and even they seem powerless to stop it. Adapter-director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) gives a nod to Austen’s novel-in-letters format by serving up a steady succession of short-missive scenes and indulges in some broad comedy along the way, courtesy of a gentleman who is especially rich and even more especially stupid. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to encounter in a master’s early work, its rough charms magnified by the knowledge of what’s to come.