Easy Virtue

Posted by schnolis on June 17th, 2009 filed in Reviews

EASY VIRTUEEasy Virtue is a surprisingly fitting title for this film. Instead of exerting effort to establish any real story or invest in characters we can care about, we’re spoon-fed a pretentious milieux and a trite assumption of how the blanks should be filled in—an aloof father figure, a socially adept mother with rigid sensibilities and staid emotion, an emotionally stilted son groomed to take the reins of the family but with a case of wanderlust and some daughters with slim changes of landing a proper suitor. All this is completed by the most tiresome cliche of the genre, the nearly depleted family coffers, leaving our family on the doorstep of destitution. For the sake of adding extra conflict, they throw into the mix a self-made yet crass lower-class American girl who crashes into our traditional family like a bowling ball into some waiting pins.

Mrs. Whitaker (Kristen Scott Thomas) is the stoic mother attempting to hold together her family. He husband, Mr. Whitaker (Colin Firth) is a World War I veteran who has been damaged by his being part of horrific death on a grand scale. His days are spent tinkering in the garage and not engaging his family except tangentially. The eldest son John (Ben Barnes) runs off to American and meets his lovely, lively bride Larita (Jessica Biel) and brings her home to meet his family. She clashes with everyone, but most notably Mrs. Whitaker, who frets over his unwillingness to assume responsibility of the family affairs and their incumbent problems.

The movie is muddled, though, with attempts at humor and levity in the midst of overwhelming crisis and drama. Without a major stroke of fortune the family is doomed to lose the little it still maintains. It’s a worthy tragedy, and could have played as such if not for the insipid interjection of slapstick humor and needless shenanigans. This structure of the story is a house of cards, precariously stacked up the instant before the story unfolds. It has no stability, no foundation. But there’s no tragedy, no love lost when the cards come tumbling down; they had nowhere else to go.

What I liked: Some of the dialog was sharp. Dry and acerbic, too, but it sometimes kept some scenes moving. The actors are by and large of a good quality, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t work for them. I wanted to like the movie, and at times I did sympathize with the characters. There were moments of closeness and family bonding that could have been touching, had they been less fleeting.

What I disliked: Two major annoyances were present in this film. I cannot stand movies that always have characters storming out of a scene and characters who smoke constantly or whenever they feel anything remotely emotional. The smoking was forced into nearly every scene to no practical benefit. I think both of these faults are telltale signs of a director who doesn’t know his craft. I don’t know if Stephan Elliott is a hack, but he turned in a lousy effort on this film. No one was authentically emotional and kept important information from the people they supposedly loved. Easy Virtue made no difficult choices and was uninteresting. Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas have no chemistry and play banal roles.

Rating: 3 of 10

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