Seeing period films in this day and age is like playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later you’re going to get caught…

They tend to fall into four groups: total masterpiece, thoroughly enjoyable romp, duller than dishwater and complete train wreck.

EASY VIRTUE fits firmly into the last category.

It opens with JESSICA BIEL warbling MAD ABOUT THE BOY on the soundtrack. Badly.

The screen slowly fades into a black and white newsreel. It is a late 1920s automobile race held in Monte Carlo. LARITA FILTON (JESSICA BIEL) wins with no effort whatsoever. She is immediately disqualified because she is a woman.

As she gets up from her car, an exceptionally handsome English boy catches her eye. Larita smiles back.

The young man in question is JOHN WHITTAKER (BEN BARNES). In the blink of an eye, he falls hard for Larita.

John’s mother VERONICA (KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS) pretends to be mildly amused at her wayward’s son constant wanderings. But she’s actually alternately furious (she’s got the classic fire and ice temperament) and worried.

She appears to be the dominant member of the household, controlling everythng in her path and using anything short of force to get her way.

Her husband JIM (COLIN FIRTH) is a shell shocked war hero with dark secrets of his own. He seems to be a passive drunk who tosses off the occasional humorous remark and spends the remainder of his time trying to stay out of his formidable spouse’s way.

But things are more complicated than they seem on their palatial English country estate.

Word gets out that John and Larita are involved. Veronica pretends to be unconcerned. She thinks that John is just frittering his time away like a typical young man and dismisses the romance as a phase.

In her mind, Larita is a gold digger – a fast woman of easy virtue. John could not possibly be interested in having anything substantial with her.

Then Veronica’s world comes crashing down around her. John contacts her to tell her that he is bringing Larita to meet the family. He neglects to mention – until after his arrival – that Larita is now his wife.

Veronica nearly has a heart attack. Larita has a million strikes against her. But the three main ones are: her previous marriage, the fact that she’s an American and that she’s very, very blonde.

Larita is sincere in her attempts to establish a connection with her husband’s family. John’s sisters are initially intrigued by her sense of style and her tragic poetic past. But then they turn against her due to a series of unfortunate circumstances.

The household staff adores Larita, as does every man – married or single – within a hundred mile radius. SARAH HURST (CHARLOTTE RILEY), John’s childhood sweetheart, is fond of her as well.

But the only real ally the bride has in her spouse’s family is his father. Jim feels that there’s enormous depth under her flashy exterior. He’s known a great deal of sorrow in his life and he senses that she has as well. Consequently, he sees her as a kindred spirit to be respected.

But John’s sisters do not approve. Veronica is determined to do everything she can to make it as difficult as possible for Larita. The scenario becomes infinitely more complex when Larita realizes that John has actually come home to stay.

His parents fully expect him to live out in the country with them. Larita assumed that they would reside in London and both work.

She comes to the conclusion that, if she wants her marriage to survive, she has to be willing to beat Veronica at her own game.

The American girl clearly has a few tricks up her sleeve that her English in laws have yet to experience.

EASY VIRTUE does have a number of positive qualities. The production values are superb – right down to the sumptuous art direction, the fantastic clothes and the glittering cars. The cinematography is stunning. Everything looks incredibly luxurious.

There is some decent acting.

Everything else is completely wrong.

This is an adaptation of a NOEL COWARD play. He was an exceptionally witty brilliant man. But, for a comedy, it’s not particularly funny. Far more embarrassing than amusing.

There’s an extremely tasteless subplot involving the family’s adorable white Chihuahua Poppy. It was disgustingly offensive.

The film uses great standards (MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, LET’S MISBEHAVE) and they’re all performed without an ounce of expertise. They drone on and on relentlessly. There are even a couple of bizarre remakes that have been redone to sound like music from that time (CAR WASH and a cover of the TOM JONES hit SEXBOMB).

STEPHAN ELLIOTT’S direction is as unremittingly awful as his writing. Unless, of course, he was going for a ridiculously mannered exercise in camp.

BEN BARNES and CHARLOTTE RILEY are standouts. They manage to rise above this mess. KRIS MARSHALL (as the wise acerbic young butler FURBER) steals every scene he’s in and makes a small inconsequential role his very own. He’ll go far.

KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS and COLIN FIRTH are such gorgeously accomplished actors they could make the phone book sound enticing. But this is just highway robbery on the largest scale imaginable.

It was lovely to see them married again. (They were also in THE ENGLISH PATIENT.) But it’s such a waste of their incredible talents, it’s morbidly depressing.

Finally, the main reason why EASY VIRTUE is a spectacular failure…

How did JESSICA BIEL get this part? Everything about her screams contemporary.

Perhaps she can act. But there is no absolutely no evidence of that here.

She has been given a great gift. The sad thing is that she’s totally miscast and can’t rise successfully to a level of competence in any degree.

If the actor playing Larita doesn’t work, the entire picture falls to pieces.

There’s no champagne fizz here. EASY VIRTUE is as flat as a day old milkshake.

Don’t even try to drink it…

6 Responses to “EASY VIRTUE *”

  1. something can be both duller than dishwater and a complete train wreck.

    wow, didn’t know that was possible.

    but seriously who doesn’t hate a very, very blonde female. 😉

    and really why mention the art direction/cinematography ??? ok i don’t really know what those things are. but ok… 🙂

    well proof i’m the weirdo if the movie doesn’t work for me those things usually have the impact/importance for me as an after mint.

    and instead of tom jones SEXBOMB it would have been weird if they did flipper’s SEXBOMB. insert an mp 3, musepack, flac, wav, aac, wma, vorbis file of my laughter… 🙂

    She has been given a great gift.

    what gift ??? getting this role???

    oh and uh…here’s a letter that went to the kids on the landmark mailing list/if virtue hit your area.

    mine was dated june 06

    Hey Film Club Members,

    In 1993 I was en route to Cannes with a little Aussie film called The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert when they informed me of a technicality: as we hadn’t had a cast and crew screening (the print was still dripping wet) I was allowed to show it once before the world premiere in France. We were about to layover in San Francisco, so after some inspired last minute juggling, I stood in the back of a cinema in The Castro unspooling a mystery film to a huge assembly of very drunk late night punters.

    Every conception I had about my career changed in that moment.

    I’m not gonna lie, she’s been a blessing and a curse. I created a stiletto so big I couldn’t get out from under her shadow. After a few years sun seeking, I threw in the towel and walked away in search of inspiration…which I found, five years later in the French Alps…over a 300 foot cliff. In the blink of a beaded lash I broke my back, pelvis and legs. I was given 20 minutes to live. I closed my eyes. I let go.

    And woke up — three days later — in absolute agony. What the hell was I still doing here? An encore — that’s what. I’d been given a second chance.

    While in Hospital, Ealing Studio’s head honcho Barnaby Thompson casually suggested an adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1924 play Easy Virtue. It had been filmed once before — by a 20 year old unknown director called Alfred Hitchcock. Rewrite Coward? Reimage Hitchcock? Sure! Why not? Morphine can make decisions like that for you.

    Another four years down the track and there I was facing Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Barnes — about to tackle the The Master and The Master Of Suspense — simultaneously.

    Noël (born on Xmas day) wrote a daring and original play: handsome young English buck returns to fading country pile married to an older, sassy, divorced American! It’s the original Meet The (very posh) Parents — and ground breaking for its time — but 90 years on? Noel Coward is quoted as saying he never wants his work to become museum pieces and in those few words I found the license to tackle it. We dusted off the cover and broke out the new paint.

    You might think it’s a bit of a stretch going from the rough and tumble of the Australian outback to “England’s green and pleasant land,” but look at it this way: the tag line for Priscilla was, “If aliens landed in your town, what would they wear?” Jessica Biel is my glamorous alien from the future landing in Kristin Scott Thomas’ stagnant past—and oh Lordy! What is she wearing?

    It’s what The Master wanted — I think he would approve.

    -Stephan Elliott, cowriter/director

  2. i’ve got that magic touch.

    so yeah when i very slightly babble about what a horrible year it been for movies (and it has…)

    your second movie review since my return is the worst movie you’ve seen this year…and this is after you told me this hasn’t been a bad year for you.

    see what happens when i’m around….;)

  3. glim, my sweet…

    I think you misread my review. All over the place.

    For one thing, EASY VIRTUE is not dull as dishwasher. As bad as it may be. It’s actually pretty lively. But it is a train wreck IMO…and that is what I stated.

    Yeah, tons of people (easily 90% women) hate a very, very blonde female. Ha ha. I should know.

    glim, when you write reviews you’re attempting to give people information. If you found something positive then you have to be honest. I’m just trying to help people make up their own minds.

    Did I hate this movie? Yeah. Enough that I wouldn’t give it two stars.

    But I didn’t give it zero. It wasn’t completely negative and it’s fair to discuss that.

    Incidentally, art direction refers to the sets, the costumes, the lighting…Most everything that would contribute to the look of a film – what you would call production values. Cinematography has to do with camera work – shots, angles etc.

    Yeah, I think Ms. Biel was given a great opportunity. She came from TV and none of her films have been a big success. Larita is an incredible part that genuinely allowed her to stretch. You don’t always see someone with Jessica’s background ending up with a role like that.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think it did much good in the end.

    Stephan Elliott sounds like a lovely guy. I’m sorry he was so badly injured. That must have been hell to get through and I’m certainly happy that he’s all right now.

    But I still think this film is a dud. As in DOA.

  4. Ha ha ha. Um…NO.

    I wouldn’t dare blame you for that, glim.

    It was going to happen sooner or later.

  5. p.s.

    so what exactly did your boy think of this? how would he rate it???? 😉

  6. Actually, in all fairness, he really loathed the flick as much as I did. I’m positive he would’ve also given it one star.

    It’s not his style anyway. He’s too stubborn to be dragged to anything he hates. So I just give him enough room to make up his own mind.

    So he ended up going that night. But he knows the drill. He has to do the same for me.

    I’ve been with him for years. Once in a while I go off and get myself into some hot water. But he’s always there for me when I reappear somewhere down the line.

    We will probably end up together permanently. But even if we don’t, he will always be in my life to some degree. He has been a very significant person in my precious existence.

    If we weren’t passionate about each other it would have faded a long time ago. But there’s enough stuff going on to make it real interesting.

    Even at this stage in the game.

    I don’t know what I’d do without him….

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