Easy Virtue (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

film_easy-virtue_sm.jpgWhile Easy Virtue looks the part of a roaring ’20s romp, it fails on several levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Larita (Jessica Biel) has gotten herself into quite a tough spot. She’s impulsively married John Whittaker (Ben Barnes), a young Englishman she adores, but he just may love his family more than he loves her.

After marrying, the couple heads to the Whittaker family’s country estate so John can introduce Larita to his beloved family. Unfortunately, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) sees thrill-seeking Larita as a poor choice for John, and makes it her mission to destroy the relationship.

While Easy Virtue looks the part of a roaring ’20s romp, it fails on several levels. One of the problems is that they simply don’t go far enough with the Larita vs. Mrs. Whittaker antics. I was expecting a grand battle of wills between the two of them. Instead, the audience is treated to Mrs. Whittaker signing Larita up for a talent show in which she hopes Larita will embarrass herself (she doesn’t), and animal lover Larita riding a motorcycle through the family’s annual hunt in order to mortify her mother-in-law (she does). Not exactly My Man Godfrey heights of hijinks.

The filmmakers didn’t strike the right balance between slapstick and serious. For instance, a subplot with Mrs. Whittaker’s dog almost hits the right notes, but the filmmakers let the gag drag on until it loses what humor there was. Meanwhile, the real reason behind Mrs. Whittaker’s dislike of Larita isn’t revealed until minutes before the movie ends. And, there’s no real connective tissue between the two tones of the film, only arguments among Larita and John in which they say the same things again and again.

Biel has made a lot of noises lately about being too pretty to get good parts. Even though the film itself isn’t that sound, the part of Larita is well put together. It’s exactly the kind of part that could turn into a deft showcase of talent. Here’s the problem with that: Jessica Biel can’t act. Yeah, I said it. She is clearly out of her element here, as every actor around her makes the absolute most of their parts while she flounders.

Don’t get me wrong; I was really hoping that Biel would surprise me. But the truth is that the language of the film, all high-brow, florid and formal, is clearly too much for her. She never appears to lack understanding of her dialogue, but she’s obviously trying to make it come out right. And the audience should never be able to see actors acting.

The result of all this is that we never feel like we’re honestly enveloped in the world of the film. Larita is supposed to be our way into the Whittaker’s rarefied world where the only people who work are the servants. I found myself not being able to identify with Larita’s in-law problems or root for her, even though I knew I was meant to.

Bottom line? Better to go rent yourself a genuine 1920s article than deal with this disappointing clunker. | Adrienne Jones

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