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Easy Virtue: or How The Movie Gods Gave Me a Freebie

Apparently, the movie gods are taunting me.  No other explanation for the brazen attitude adopted by the distributors of Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience.  How else could I miss screenings of the film at two separate theaters just weeks apart?  At this point, my only hope is watching it on Comcast’s OnDemand package.  I will not divulge when I plan to do this on the assumption that Sony reads my blog to deliberately thwart my attempts in reviewing their film.  No other plausible explanation exists.  None.  However, I am a loyal movie patron, and the movie gods threw me a bone.  The theater selected for this week’s venture – the aptly named Novi 8 – had an array of other independent films to choose from (plus Transformers) including Easy Virtue, and the Indian film Kal Kissne Dekha.  The logline for Dekha: An Indian college student has the power to see the future.  Awesome.  How could this go wrong?  Indian films are fun (weird) and time travel always leads to interesting (confusing) stories.  So, my two brothers and I jumped into my car and went off to Novi.  As we’re about to enter the theater, brother Sean suggests we look at the poster for the movie.  Now, kind reader, would you see a film with this type of poster art:

Kal Kissne Dekha

If you would, you are a more accepting person than myself.  However, the three of us can be pretty damn judgmental. We immediately opted to see Easy Virtue starring Jessica Biel.  I suppose the movie gods, or Sony’s distribution department felt bad, or wanted to reward my perseverance.  Either way, this was a freebie.  Looking at the poster, Kal Kissne Dekha was an undeniable journey down some twisted road of Juno-High School Musical-Primer mash up.  Granted, when described like that we all think “Wow. That could be awesome” and maybe I should’ve gone.  But we all know that in practice the high concept idea always ends the same: “Wow.  That could’ve been awesome.”  Luckily, a couple hours later, we weren’t disappointed.  Easy Virtue proved to be the opposite of a horrendous high-concept Bollywood musical, a solid social comedy period piece.

Easy Virtue stars Jessica Biel, and sticks to a common, and successful, formula of two classes clashing together.  Jessica Biel, plays the progressive, take charge, American female racecar driver who marries into the crusty, elitist British country family.  The two sides predictably collide, as both matriarchs try to outwit and outlast the other.  As predictable as the plot sounds, the energy and enjoyment of the film comes from the performances of Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, and yes, even Jessica Biel.  Their constant back-and-forth of laconic remarks and dead dog hiding shenanigans keeps the film moving along.  In fact, most of the film works until you reach the end, where the ending comes out of nowhere and negates the rest of the film.  It makes sense in a strictly logical sense, but only 10-15 minutes lead up to the final revelation, and the characters you felt most connected with have nothing to do with the big reveal.  Emotionally, you’re left hanging with no satisfying resolution.  You cock your head to the left and utter an “huh?”  You can talk yourself into liking the ending, because you really want to after watching the fun back and forth, but it’s a logical victory, not an emotional one.

Easy Virtue explores the idea behind social class and status pitting the old money family against the middle-class up by my own bootstraps woman.  The bulk of the film deals with subtle attempts both women make to undermine the other, reinforcing their beliefs.  They make attempt after attempt to embarrass the other, much to the amusement of the men of the family.  Each try to directly address the situation (an American women marrying into a rich, but dwindling, family) fails miserably, with false assurances that nothing is going on.  I’m not sure if that attitude comes from the period drama or an unconscious choice by the writer and director to portray the main female characters as cunning, conniving bitches.  At the end, however, the subtle undermining wins, as the status quo remains unchanged.  And the only character to embrace a real change in their life, like previously noted, comes out of nowhere with no real emotional resonance.  At least, everyone in the countryside got to see the bodacious American’s back in that sizzling dress changed.

Easy Virtue works until the end and proves why an ending can elevate the film to a must-see-at-all-costs, or drop to a “see it if you’re in the area.”  The ending makes Easy Virtue hard to recommend, you’ll enjoy every part of the ride but the ending makes you wonder if the journey was worth it.

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