Easy Virtue
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Filmmakers love a meddling mother-in-law. It doesn’t matter if she’s clueless and well-meaning or simply sinister; if she’s in the way, she always adds an entertaining twist to any love story. But no one plays the toxic mother-in-law quite like Kristin Scott Thomas does in Easy Virtue.

Scott Thomas plays Mrs. Whittaker, a stern 1920s British matron who rules her family with an iron fist. When her only son, John (Ben Barnes), returns home with his new wife, however, things in the Whittaker household begin to spin wildly out of control.

From the moment that John and Larita (Jessica Biel) arrive, it’s quite clear that the new Mrs. Whittaker doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t hunt. She doesn’t play tennis. She’s even allergic to her mother-in-law’s exotic flowers. Worst of all, she’s an American, born and raised in Detroit—which is where she became a race car driver.

But Larita is more than just some obnoxious floozy; she’s also a threat to the Whittakers’ way of life. Because while Mrs. Whittaker expects John to return home and take care of the family’s estate, Larita has convinced him to settle in London. And as Mrs. Whittaker struggles to maintain control of her family, Larita struggles to adjust—all the while fearing that her new husband and the man she fell in love with are two very different people.

Though it may sound like the same old starchy British period drama, there’s something different about Easy Virtue. It’s handled with a lighter touch, mixing the usual subtle British wit with more outrageous, laugh-out-loud comedy—all while a strikingly distinctive soundtrack of ‘20s-style music plays in the background. Listen closely, and you’ll catch everyone from Cole Porter to Tom Jones (courtesy of Marius de Vries, who also directed the music for Moulin Rouge!).

The story, too, is refreshing and fun—thanks, in no small part, to Larita, the modern American woman who adds an interesting twist to the relationships. She doesn’t understand the way things are supposed to work in a proper British home, so she gets to know the servants by name, she cooks her own meals, and she even tinkers out in the barn with John’s henpecked father (played by the ever-charming Colin Firth). She’s understandably baffled by her surroundings—and she’s not sure whether she should be herself or try to fit in. But, ultimately, she makes the right decision—which leads to the film’s fitting (though not necessarily expected) conclusion.

Meanwhile, the cast couldn’t be better—especially Firth, who plays Mr. Whittaker with the perfect amount of wry wit, and, of course, Scott Thomas, who’s absolutely chilling (yet just the slightest bit human) as Mrs. Whittaker. She’s cold and disapproving and perfectly unpleasant. But even Biel manages to hold her own in the midst of such an overwhelmingly talented cast. I’ve never been particularly fond of her—or her acting—but she handles both the humor and the drama of her role surprisingly well.

The cast alone makes Easy Virtue worth watching, but those unexpected touches of humor and music make it easy to enjoy.

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