Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Easy Virtue

In 1994 Aussie director Stephan Elliott put out one of my all-time favorite movies The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He followed this with a series of bad movies, including the truly awful 1999 flick, Eye of the Beholder. In 2008 he directed Easy Virtue, his first film since Beholder, and when I found out it was a period-piece comedy written by Noel Coward and starring Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas, made through BBC Films, I was excited. I thought the ingredients were there for Elliott to return to the path of righteousness he was on so briefly with Priscilla. Well, that didn’t happen.
Easy Virtue is about a British family deeply rooted to their traditional aristocratic ways and their sprawling country-side estate. Tensions are high as money grows thin. The husband no longer works and does little more than drink and bitch and the son, the hope of the family, is on a frolic in the south of France. Hope arrives when the son announces he’s returning, but that hope soon turns to more despair when the family learns that he’s coming back only for a visit and has actually gotten married, and to an American race-circuit driver. Oh, how appalling.
Sounds good, but it was terribly executed. This movie is a classic example of swinging and missing the ball completely. The characters are under developed, the scenery seems cut and pasted from some other movie and the story arc (overbearing mother and strong willed daughter-in-law compete for king of the mountain) is as played as it gets. They also do things that are just downright distracting, like having characters who are totally unnecessary and having modern songs (including KISS’s Sexbomb) as the soundtrack, played as though they were popular songs of the era.
Though I never thought I’d say this, the saving grace was the performance of Colin Firth and Jessica Biel, that’s right, you heard me. Biel was great, and I liked her just about every second she was on screen, and Firth was totally enjoyable as the drunken curmudgeon of a father. Outside of those two, the movie was utterly forgettable. I’m going to keep watching your movies Mr. Elliott, but please, please get better at this.


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