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Love & Friendship Blu-ray Review

Love & Friendship (2016) movie poster Love & Friendship

Theatrical Release: May 13, 2016 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Whit Stillman / Writers: Whit Stillman (screenplay); Jane Austen (novella Lady Susan)

Cast: Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Emma Greenwell (Catherine DeCourcy Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), James Fleet (Sir Reginald DeCourcy), Jemma Redgrave (Lady DeCourcy), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson), Chlo Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Jenn Murray (Lady Lucy Manwaring), Conor MacNeill (The Young Curate)

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Whit Stillman has had an interesting and unusual career on Hollywood's fringes.
A Harvard University alum, Stillman worked as a book and magazine editor before getting involved in Spain's film industry. Shortly before his 40th birthday, he made his writing and directing debut in America on 1990's Metropolitan. The low-budget indie comedy earned Stillman an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He followed that up with Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998), two rather different films that turned profits amidst critical acclaim. After fourteen years away, Stillman returned with 2012's Damsels in Distress, another well-reviewed comedy, though one that didn't make much commercial impact.

Stillman's fifth film and his most successful to date both critically and commercially is Love & Friendship, an adaptation of Jane Austen's little-known, posthumously-published epistolary novella Lady Susan. The film reunites Stillman with his Last Days of Disco leading ladies Kate Beckinsale and Chlo Sevigny.

In Whit Stillman's "Love & Friendship", young new widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) applies her considerable charms to anyone she can.

Beckinsale stars as Lady Susan Vernon, a recent widow who has the reputation of being the most accomplished flirt in London. Her means and status in doubt following her husband's death, Lady Susan turns to the kindness of relatives, moving into Churchill, the country estate of her wealthy brother-in-law and his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell). There, Lady Susan quickly catches the eye of Catherine's handsome young brother, the bachelor Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), whose expectations of the lady are subverted.

Meanwhile, Lady Susan's daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), runs away from school and to Churchill. Following her shortly is Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a daft suitor she has no interest in marrying. Something of a romantic quadrangle forms around the mother, daughter, and two eligible bachelors. Lady Susan confides in her friend, American exile Alicia Johnson (Sevigny), but in secret because Alicia's husband (a brief Stephen Fry) forbids the friendship and threatens to make Alicia return to Connecticut if she disobeys him.

Adapting Jane Austen is an unexpected move for Stillman, whose first four films used original screenplays written only by him. The novels of Austen have been tapped for film and, even more so, television with such frequency that they seem about as far removed as anything from the originality for which Stillman has distinguished himself. Alas, the filmmaker finds common ground with his thin source material and gives us something a little different from just another costumed romance.

Unexpected visitor Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) steals every scene he's in with his clumsy attempts at small talk.

Love & Friendship manages to be both an Austen film and a Stillman one.
It is witty and spry. It has fun with the language of the era, as well as the social mores and manners that are so distant from those of today. Stillman's screenplay isn't terribly faithful to Austen's missive-based text, allowing itself plenty of room to entertain with comic material that is sure to tickle not only contemporary arthouse moviegoers but anyone able to enter a period costume piece with an open mind and sense of humor. Flourishes like text-based character introductions and the use of additional certain onscreen text inject further life and color into this over 200-year-old story.

Beckinsale shines in the lead role you would more easily see several of her countrywomen in. Hollywood hasn't really known what to do with the actress since her ostensible breakout role in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor (2001). She's done fine work with everyone from Martin Scorsese (The Aviator) to Adam Sandler (Click), but the fact that she keeps returning to the tight leather outfits of the perplexingly enduring Underworld series (whose fifth film is due next January and sixth is now in development) suggests she isn't being offered better parts than a werewolf-slaying vampire.

Australia's Samuel arrives at leading man duties from a similarly unlikely background of Twilight sequel and minor horror movies. He looks so at ease here, though, you might assume him to be a BBC veteran. The cast's real standout, though, is Tom Bennett in the scene-stealing role of Sir James Martin, who is introduced and later referred to as "a bit of a rattle." Bennett's awkward interactions and strained small talk on peas, verse, and Churchill give the film its most humorous moments.

Stillman's films have always seemed better suited for intelligentsia than average moviegoers, but Love & Friendship seems to have won everybody over at once. Following near-universal acclaim from critics (a staggering 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), the film proceeded to attract sizable crowds in limited release, buoyed no doubt by strong word of mouth. Though it peaked at a modest 826 theaters, this Roadside Attractions-distributed Amazon Studios acquisition still managed to gross $14 million, a close second to Roadside's Hello, My Name Is Doris among 2016 releases in fewer than 1,000 theaters. Like Doris, Love & Friendship reaches DVD and Blu-ray not from Roadside parent company Lionsgate but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Love & Friendship Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English),
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($25.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Sony consistently offers some of the best-looking Blu-ray transfers around and even though Love & Friendship isn't an in-house production, it still looks terrific. The 1.85:1 presentation showcases the sumptuous designs with sharpness, clarity, detail, and vibrant colors. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio doesn't command much attention for good or bad. It presents the rich dialogue crisply and without any concerns.

Chlo Sevigny sounds pleased as punch to reunite with her "Last Days of Disco" director. Whit Stillman prepares the actors for a shot in "Behind the Scenes: Love & Friendship."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Like its DVD counterpart, the Blu-ray offers just a single 9-minute,
40-second featurette entitled "Behind the Scenes: Love & Friendship." This is a standard EPK-type piece, which complements some BTS footage with the usual mix of cast and crew talking heads. Stillman has recorded commentaries with cast members on all his previous films, so the omission of such a feature here may surprise some. On the other hand, his first three films made it into The Criterion Collection, so perhaps this will one day join them there.

The disc opens with trailers for Elvis & Nixon, Creative Control, Louder than Bombs, and Stillman's Damsels in Distress. The menu's "Previews" listing repeats the same four items. Love & Friendship's own trailer is sadly not included here.

Adapted from the poster and cover art, the static menu attaches some of the opening titles' lively harp score.

No digital copy is included here, which explains why the side-snapped keepcase is not joined by a slipcover or any insert.

Posed as if in portrait, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and the DeCourcy family are surprised by Lady Susan's return.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While I don't quite share the same enthusiasm that many of my fellow critics expressed for it, I can say that I found Love & Friendship to be an enjoyable diversion that stands out among other period romances. Sony's Blu-ray is a basic but agreeable affair that will suffice for those who don't feel like waiting to see if Criterion adds it to their other Whit Stillman offerings.

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Related Reviews:
Kate Beckinsale: Stonehearst Asylum Everybody's Fine Vacancy | Chlo Sevigny: My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done Lovelace
Xavier Samuel: The Loved Ones Adore Plush Fury The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Becoming Jane Austenland Clueless Bride & Prejudice A Little Chaos
New to Disc: Maggie's Plan Genius Equals A Hologram for the King Money Monster The Man Who Knew Infinity The Bronze

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Reviewed September 5, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Amazon Studios, Westerly-Blinder-Chic Films, Revolver Amsterdam, Arte France Cinema, Protagonist Pictures, Soficinema 11, Cinemage 10, The Netherlands Film Fund, Irish Film Board, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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