It Is Surprisingly Hard to Be Easy ["Easy Virtue"]
What is delightful about the film “Easy Virtue” may present stumbling blocks for some. It's the British, you see. Something about their repressed character charms us in so many motion pictures. The Brits in “Easy Virtue” are once again pressed into their mannered molds, but we are neither directed to like them nor to sympathize with their difficulties.
Actually, we can like the butler with his sneering eye on the entrenched behavior of the master class. We can sympathize with the master of the house (Colin Firth), who has had his spirit broken, but not his off-hand injections of wit.
The deftness of this adaptation of Noel Coward's 1920's play, set in that time, lies in the beginning of the end of the Britain that was.
The only son of an aristocratic family brings his brash American bride into their world. The poisonous civility of the family, led by the chilling stiff upper lip portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas, bristles against the American's categorical inability to belong.
Playing the husband of Scott's character, only Firth recognizes the refreshing vitality injected into the dwindling command of a seventh generation of privilege. You might say all the men in the film recognize the superficial aspects of this vitality. The American woman, supposedly of easy virtue, responds to one insult laid on her by declaring, “It is surprisingly hard to be easy.”
Jessica Biel plays what you might call the title character well enough. She's attractive, though not as well cast as Thomas and Firth. Since the film revolves around her character, a crisper actress would have delivered the modern American crust more effectively.
The family dog plays in the film's funniest scene. At the dog's expense, this shtick provides a counterpoint that vents some of the stodgy air. That aside, there's plenty of oxygen of a certain kind to successfully deliver a slight shift on the kind of British period pieces that class up the movie landscape.