A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this play-based period comedy might not seem to be standard fare for teens at first glance, but its two leads -- Jessica Biel of 7th Heaven and Prince Caspian's Ben Barnes -- may be a draw. The film tackles some mature themes, mainly regarding marriage and in-law relationships, and has a little swearing. Not surprisingly for a period film, the characters do smoke a lot -- nearly incessantly, actually. There's also drinking and some (though not much) partial nudity.
What's the story?
Based on a play by Noel Coward, EASY VIRTUE finds out what happens when a prodigal young Englishman, John Whittaker (Ben Barnes), brings home his new wife, Larita (Jessica Biel) -- a racy American race-car driver and divorcée -- to his family's rambling country estate. His mother, Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas), finds Larita's unfamiliar ways ghastly; his sisters are both fascinated and jealous. Only the butler (Kris Marshall) and John's father, the forlorn Mr. Whittaker (Colin Firth), seem to like her. But Larita won't go without a heck of a fight.
Is it any good?
EASY VIRTUE is a sight to behold. Kudos to the art director, set designer, and costumers for creating a shabbily sophisticated world that's long gone but not forgotten. The images are as crisp as Scott Thomas' upper-crust diction, and the set design is divine. (You can almost feel the dust flying off of those wonderful furniture pieces that have been neglected as the money well runs dry.) Delightful in parts and intolerable in others, the film does, however, suffer from two challenges.
First, there's Biel's somewhat limited range. She gives the enterprise a spirited try and sometimes succeeds, especially when Larita's poignancy shines through. But she's not as funny as she needs to be in such a tart-tongued role. Coming in second is a storyline that, even for a period comedy, is played so much for its quaintness that it becomes unrelatable. And there's so much attention paid to the repetitive back-and-forth between Larita and Veronica that it wears the audience down. When the big "bombshell" is finally revealed, it feels bereft of tension or importance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages about marriage and relationships. Are any of the relationships the kind you'd want to have? Do you think the characters take their marriages seriously? Families can also discuss the dynamics of introducing someone new to the fold. Why did John’s mother and Larita take an instant dislike to each other? Why does John tolerate or even seemingly enjoy it? What about John’s sisters? Were their actions understandable or unforgivable?
- In theaters: November 7, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2009
- Cast: Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas
- Director: Stephan Elliott
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual content, brief partial nudity, and smoking throughout
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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