England/USA, 2008, 93 minutes
Wed, May 6 / 6:00 / Kabuki / EASY06K
Thu, May 7 / 3:00 / Kabuki / EASY07K
The director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert returns after a nine-year absence with this randy update of the classic Noel Coward Jazz-Age play, giving it a jaunty 21st-century swing while retaining all its original barbs and charms. It’s the mid-1920s in stuffy old England, and the snobbish family of wealthy trophy-boy John Whittaker wouldn’t mind if time stood still forever. Imagine their consternation, then, when John brings home impromptu new bride Larita (Jessica Biel), who’s not only a modern woman with modern charms (and legs), but is also a successful auto racer (gasp!) and an American (even bigger gasp!). While John’s lackadaisical father (Colin Firth, perpetually perched between slumber and scruff) doesn’t seem to mind Larita’s presence, his overbearing mother (an icily regal Kristin Scott Thomas) certainly does, and soon a battle of wits and wills rattles through the family’s crumbling estate, as two strong women—one of the past, the other of the present—battle for the future. Director Stephan Elliot infuses the play’s already toxic social commentary with some unexpectedly modern fashions and pop hits (“Sex Bomb,” “Carwash,” etc.), but his wisest decision is to just let his cast loose on Coward’s notoriously cutting dialogue. All barbed-wire niceties and ice-water kisses, Thomas embodies a social scion of a very certain class, while Firth counters her chill with a disheveled warmth all his own. It’s Jessica Biel, however, who delivers the truly astonishing performance, her bohemian beauty polished by a spirited, razor-sharp wit.
Presented in association with the Museum of Performance & Design.