In the face of the current world financial crisis, is an urbane adaptation of a mid-20s Noel Coward comedy of manners hopelessly out-of-step, or an appropriate cinematic tonic for troubled times? The collapse of economies is perhaps an unnecessary weight with which to burden a film like Easy Virtue, whose sole aim is providing 90 frothy, mildly entertaining minutes, but lingering around the borders of Stephan Elliott’s (The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) take on one of Coward’s earlier plays are increasingly relevant questions of wholesale societal change and the decay of class relations. It’s a concern of the source text that could have been amplified and made more complex via a filmic adaptation with its finger on the pulse. Sadly, “Easy Virtue” spends more time hitting the most obvious beats (especially Coward’s verbal innuendoes) hard, only hinting at the more germane update that might have been.
Calling this Easy Virtue an adaptation would be something of a misnomer. It’s more of a morbid autopsy: Elliott and co-screenwriter Sheridan Jobbins have eviscerated the author’s sensibilities in favor of a broader, streamlined approach which jettisons some of the play’s more intriguing elements, and then grafted on a conclusion that cauterizes the original’s aims. Fresh-faced John Whittaker (the wispy, barely present Ben Barnes of Narnia fame) returns home from a jaunt to Monte Carlo with a new wife—the American Larita (Jessica Biel, reaching for sophistication and stumbling), garish in the critical British eyes of John’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a racecar driver with a spotty past. Mayhem and alleged hilarity ensue as the other members of the family, sisters Marion (Katharine Parkinson) and Hilda (Kimberly Nixon), and dissipated WWI-veteran paterfamilias (a scraggly beard, dark round glasses, and scarf standing in for Colin Firth) meet the bride and line up on varying sides of the love-her/hate-her divide.
Click here to read all of Jeff Reichert’s review of Easy Virtue.