Sunday, May 24, 2009

Easy Virtue (Some Summer Smarts)

I wanted to write about Easy Virtue a snappy comedy I fear will get lost beneath the sea of summer blockbusters. (It begins rolling out across Canada May 29th.)

Easy Virtue is an adaptation of a Noel Coward play. It's not of one of his better known works and in fact was staged more as a melodrama rather than the comedy we see on screen.

To get there producers hired writer/director Stephan Elliot
and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins (a former development exec.)
Elliot if you don't recall was the man behind The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. After listening to the latest Creative Screenwriting Podcast I learned that the success of Priscilla nearly killed Elliot. He had a couple flops and then a skiing accident that did literately nearly kill him. After essentially dropping out of the industry, Easy Virtue was his way back.

Easy Virtue is a surprising film. It's a Coward comedy, so there are the things we except. The English comedy of manners. A family low on luck and funds, clinging to the upper class, knuckles bare. The clash of the classes gets even better when Larita, a modern 2oth century gal and a American to boot, hooks up with the heir to the family farm, John Whittaker. This sets the stage for a battle of wills, in one corner, the impeccable Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) as devious as she is polite, in the other Larita (Jessica Biel) a smart sassy can-do gal.
This is a fun, snappy film. I had a good feeling about it from the first couple scenes. It's obvious the director thought about what kind of film he wanted to make. He's being true to the original, but he's embellishing and improving on points. Throughout there's real sense of play there. The way characters are almost breaking into song. The way visuals poke and joke with us, just as the dialogue does. And it's all rounded out by some fine performances by Biel, Scott Thomas and Colin Firth as Mr. Whittaker(who gets to play an unstuffed shirt for once.)

Listening to the aforementioned podcast there were a couple other surprises about the creation of the film. I recommend you check it out for yourself but to list a few:
  • Colin Firth's speech about losing an entire village of men in the War, not quite in the original play, and also based on a true story.
  • Jessica Biel sings on the soundtrack. As do some other cast members. (Soundtrack is also what adds to the sense of fun, a kind of 1920's dixieland rag, which shouldn't work in an British context, but does.)
  • Speaking of the British, Elliot says Easy Virtue bombed when it opened there. He's an Aussie and thinks that with Britain's economy in tatters this is not a time to introduce a film that makes fun of the English.
  • To keep the sense of distance between their two characters, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jessica Biel kept away from each other when not filming.
  • Easy Virtue was filmed, as a Silent Alfred Hitchcock in 1928. (Get your head around that one.)
  • Noel Coward wrote the original when he was 22 (!)
  • SPOILERS AHOY!!!!!!!!!!!! The sfx of the crunching of a dog was done by sitting on a BBQ chicken.
  • BIG SPOILER The moment at the end of the film where Mr.Whittaker jumps into Larita's car is an original creation. What's interesting is, the two writers don't agree on what it means. Are they lovers , or merely comrades in arms? You'll have to see for yourself to decide.
*And yes that second poster is HORRID.

1 comment:

PodPodLily said...

At first I thought that second poster must've been from an earlier film incarnation!