Heaps of fun, brisk, witty, almost anti-romantic; not your usual Jane Austen chick flick. Writer/director Whit Stillman’s arch diorama of Jane Austen’s LADY SUSAN surveys a roundelay of uppercrust match-making between the rich and the richly eccentric. Honoring the Austen manner of testing, but largely preserving, the social order before giving everyone their richly earned desserts. Kate Beckinsale brings a manic edge to widowed, cash-poor Lady Susan, wearing out her welcome at one estate after another as she charms the men with scandalous flirtation and manipulates the women hunting up suitable mates for a willful daughter and possibly herself. She’s a bit too transparent for this festival of insincerity & feminine guile, but her obvious enjoyment wins you over, along with the film’s otherwise pitch-perfect cast. Stillman leads us thru a logjam of characters with editing choices & sharp entrances to clarify the densely packed, mischievous narrative. Like Lady Susan, he divides & conquers, using comic visual touches of formal introductions and on-screen titles as a helpful scorecard to hold down the clutter of fast-moving events. A near continuous delight that might have been all too precious. Deservedly popular, made for a mere 3 mill; hard to see why Whitman’s only made six features in 25 years.
DOUBLE-BILL: As period-appropriate Jane Austen adaptations go, a touch of gritty realism gives the 1995 adaptation of PERSUASION nearly as distinctive a flavor as the farcical overtones here.