When British playboy John brings his new wife Larita--a race car-driving feminist from Detroit--home to meet the family at their country estate, pretty much everyone's expectations are disappointed. His snooty mother is offended by Larita's carefree American ways, while Larita does everything she can to get her mother-in-law to loosen up, which only annoys her even more. John's sisters have diametrically opposed feelings about their new sister-in-law, but his father is intrigued to have finally found another who sees through the family's facade--and takes great perverse pleasure in watching his wife meet her match.
You wouldn’t guess that "Easy Virtue" was actually written almost eighty years ago by playwright Noel Coward but it is. Yes, for something based on a 1924 play, "Easy Virtue" is surprisingly frothy, fresh and effervescent, a subversive British period comedy that has the rare ingredient so missing in many films of today- wit.
Skilfully adapted by Stephan Elliott and Sheridan Jobbins, there is almost a quote worthy punch line in every scene of the movie, especially so when Kristin Scott Thomas’ snotty British aristocrat Veronica goes at Jessica Biel’s brash American race-car driver Larita. And it is not just their exchange of words that is so wittily barbed, so too are their mannerisms, where a great deal of physical comedy comes from watching the two almost literally go at each other’s throats.
Elliott’s adaptation also adds in humour of a more contemporary nature. One of the funniest scenes in the movie comes from the death of the beloved Whittaker family dog Poppy. The hilarity comes not just from its manner of death (Larita accidentally sits on it when it jumps up on the couch), but also its subsequent cover-up and dig-up which is milked for great amusement.
Indeed, Elliott, who also directs the movie, brings the same flamboyance and pomposity of his earlier 1994 hit "The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert" to bear on this satirical examination of the Whittakers’ warped Victorian values and its concomitant suffocation of the zest life should rightly be lived with. Elliott’s direction is just as sharp as his writing- one of the most inspired touches in the movie is his insertion of period-style versions of Coward and Cole Porter songs as fits the mood of the scene.
Adding to the delight of "Easy Virtue" is its stellar ensemble cast. Often cast in throwaway films like "Summer Catch" or "Stealth", Jessica Biel is quite the revelation here. It’s not hard to see why Elliot has cast Biel as Larita- Biel’s bright-eyed ingénue looks are just right for the part. But Biel surprises with a perfect comic timing (just watch her verbal sparring with Thomas’ Veronica) as well as a heartfelt earnestness that fits beautifully the slight change in tone of the film during the last third.
It’s also extremely heartening to see Biel hold her own against British thespians Kristin Scott- Thomas and Colin Firth. Thomas gives a perfectly calibrated performance as the narrow-minded patriarch whose authority in the family is suddenly thrown into disarray and Firth is also wonderfully understated as her melancholic, self-deprecating husband who watches with glee at his imperious wife meeting her own match.
The charming cast go a long way in complementing the fun, light-hearted tone of the movie that Elliott sustains capably throughout its duration. So despite its dated source material, "Easy Virtue" is one thoroughly enjoyable romp that you won’t find any difficulty in partaking. Oh, rest assured, there’s lots of virtue in this tart elegant comedy. Enjoy!
SPECIAL FEATURES :
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is especially enjoyable during the film’s musical interludes. Otherwise, only the hunting scenes add any surround effect. The visual transfer on this Code 3 DVD is excellent, delivering a sharp and clean experience that retains nicely the soft, warm colours of the film.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 9 November 2009