Friday, March 26, 2010
Disclaimer: I have not read the play on which this movie is based, but I'm sure I'd love it, because I love Noel Coward.
Now then. I was psyched when I first saw previews for this movie, because it takes place in an English countryside estate in the 1930s and there are fox hunts and nasty little one-liners and Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas, so it sounded pretty fail-safe. And it was, to a certain extent. I'd like to blame the jarringness of it on Jessica Biel's inclusion, but I cannot, since she actually doesn't do a bad job. In fact, this won her a lot of points with me, since the last thing I saw her in was Valentine's Day, in which she almost caused me to vomit on the floor. But then, everything about that movie was mind-numbingly awful, so it wasn't totally her fault. Anyway, in Easy Virtue, Biel is charming (that's not an insult, though it sounds like one) and manages not to be completely upstaged by Thomas.
Biel plays Larita, the unwelcome American racecar driver who has married the heir to the estate, which they promptly move into, to her despair and his elation. The husband is played by Ben Barnes, who was Prince Caspian in one of the Narnia reduxes that I learned not to watch after the first one. He has wonderful eyes. But Jessica Biel is outrageous-looking, and the idea that she would fall for him is absurd. No matter.
Colin Firth, who plays the patriarch, Mr Whittaker, could act an entire movie using only his eyes. I love his eyes. I love his nose and his mouth with its skinny lips and I love his voice and all the rest of him. He is perfection, and he has a way of playing sad men that no one can beat. And here, his lovely smirk is in full blossom. A former soldier in The Great War, there is a deep sadness that follows him, and much is made of the fact that he did not come directly home from war, but rather "wandered back" after taking some time to...play. Biel's character's arrival brings a spark to Whittaker's life, and they develop a sort of secret friendship. Meanwhile, Larita's husband is drawing farther and farther away, unable to understand why his wife, a city girl, is unhappy in the countryside with nothing to do.
This being a large-scale drawing-room comedy, every step that Larita takes, she is stopped by the first Mrs. Whittaker (Thomas). Every effort she makes to really become part of the family is halted and sniveled at. Her only real happiness after a bit is hopping into her car and driving too fast for "the thrill of escape." If only her husband would hop on board.