something there that wasn’t there before

If I was that writer I would have called this post “Things Your Kids Love Because of AIDS.” If I was that writer, I’d probably also be selling my soul to some clickbaity site that would be good for my career but would also increase my chances of stepping in front of a bus. Alas, I am not that writer. I am, however, someone who loves fairy tales and really loves Disney versions of fairytales. I know, I know it’s not cool or woke or hipster to like Disney movies. The Disney machine, and not wrongly in most cases, is accused of turning entertainment into a machine and stripping away real character and depth from darker, childhood stories. They are also cited for snatching up beloved properties and sucking the life out of them. Likewise, Disney is notorious for problematic imagery for children and hideous employment practices. Yet the heart wants what it wants and my big gay heart loves a Disney fairytale.

I hesitate to own this statement in print because it feels so permanent and the movie in question has now become bland and basic due to a live-action remake that I refused to see. Seriously, do not get me started on this onslaught of live-action Disney remakes which by the way can hardly be called live action when 80% of them is done in CGI. I’m still annoyed/traumatized/baffled by that hideous Jungle Book everyone seemed to love but me. I digress but Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of the Disney fairytale canon. There. I said it. And I stand by it. Properly dark, great characters, beautiful animation and knockout songs, it swept Oscar nominations the year it was released and rightfully so. A smart heroine who happens to be a giant book nerd and who gets along with her family plus Angela Lansbury as a tea kettle? Sign me up. However here in 2017 in my forties this movie means something else to me today and mainly because of the film’s lyricist Howard Ashman.

Ashman, the openly gay songwriter and genius also behind Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid, was dying from AIDS as Beauty and the Beast was being completed. According to film lore, Ashman worked from his home in New York while his songwriting partner Alan Menken and the film’s directors Gary Torusdale and Kirk Wise flew back and forth from Los Angeles during the making of the movie. There’s no question that the movie wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for Ashman’s lyrics. It’s impossible to think of it without singing the title track which also allows you the bonus option of doing either an Angela Lansbury or Celine Dion impression. Rooted in musical theater, the songs seamlessly bridged the gap between Broadway and animation and I’d ventured to say we’ve never gone back. Specifically, however, it’s impossible to deny AIDS when it comes to Beauty and the Beast and its iconic songs. According to the live-action film’s director Bill Condon in Vanity Fair:

“It was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters. Until then, it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling. Specifically for him, it was a metaphor for AIDS. He was cursed, and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him, and maybe there was a chance for a miracle—and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”

Songs like “Kill the Beast” are more overt in reference to AIDS.  In a few bars, Ashman slyly nails the paranoia and prejudice of the AIDS era. “We don’t like what we don’t…understand and in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least.
Bring your guns, bring your knives, save children and your wives, we’ll save our village and our lives!,” the song warns. The metaphor is so clear now but at the time no one knew. The lyrics fall in line with Ashman’s other astute observations of the human condition. Songs like “Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid surely tap into the feelings of not belonging and wanting to escape that gay people have always felt. But given his skill as a songwriter, he tapped into emotions that anyone, especially children can identify with.

Beauty and the Beast really resonates with folks who feel like they don’t belong. The hideous and withdrawn Beast and the bookish and imaginative Belle are square pegs and outcasts. Fate brings them together and we are all the better for it. Ashman’s songs particularly, “Something There” really capture how unlikely people who don’t fit anywhere else sometimes find and fall in love with one another, despite their own misconceptions and prejudices. Talk to any queer person and they’ll relate a similar story when they tell you about finally finding their people. To think that Beauty and the Beast is his last completed project (he also wrote a few songs for Aladdin)is profound to say the least.

As a person living with HIV and in a very different era, it’s hard not to get chills and feel emotional when reading about Ashman and the horrors that artists like him faced at the time. I started thinking about him this week when it was announced that a new documentary about his legacy was coming out later this year. The film looks to shine a light on his artistry as well as last his days dying from AIDS. Despite extreme hatred and isolation, Ashman and other great artists were able to produce works that people are still enjoying to this day.

This August, it will be 8 years since my own HIV diagnosis. While I’m grateful that times have changed and that I can have meds to help me stay alive with relative ease and low-cost, I’d be lying if I said that I still didn’t think we had a long way to go. Sure, we’re now acknowledging Ashman and his legacy. But look elsewhere, like the new movie about Freddie Mercury, and the story of AIDS is all about erased.  To ignore such a vital part of Mercury’s story and it’s impact seems like a mistake. I guess my point of writing is this to remind myself of artists like Ashman and Mercury and what they contributed as people with AIDS and to know they are not forgotten.

Maybe my clickbait idea at the top was correct. I mean, if you love The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, then you love Howard Ashman, a man who died from AIDS.  But also if your kids love the literary adventures of Frog and Toad,  they also love a story of AIDS. If you’ve watched Dreamgirls and sang along, you are enjoying a story that is not just a black story or a musical story but the story of AIDS.   So maybe your kids love something dearly like Beauty and the Beast and that’s partially because of AIDS, a monster whose horrors they’ll hopefully never know. Talk about a real life fairy tale ending.

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surrender becomes power

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Maybe there’s no such thing as a 100% terrible movie that you get absolutely nothing out of? No, really. Hear me out. There are many, many epically bad films out there but is there always at least something redeeming we can pull out of a movie? For example, there are lots of films that I love which are really awful pieces of shit that no human being should sit through. Yet due to their campiness and sheer horrible nature they somehow become accidentally hilarious and genius. I mean watch Starship Troopers or Showgirls or Center Stage and tell me didn’t enjoy them in the same way you enjoy a bag of Cheetos. It’s not good for you but you sort of don’t care. As a lifelong movie nerd, I came to the hard realization years ago that not every movie is supposed to save your life. Maybe the writing is atrocious, the performances ridiculous and the entire production a bloated mess and you can still get something out of it? Or maybe not. But surprisingly, I did actually get something out of Suicide Squad when I watched it the other night.

Oh, this isn’t to say that I thought Suicide Squad wasn’t a bad movie. It’s a really bad movie. It’s a movie so bad that I found myself shaking my head in disbelief for the entire overstuffed 2 hours and change of the film. It’s so bad that it comes real close to becoming the kind of camp Camille Paglia wrote about. The kind of camp kids get stoned to watch and make fun of. And perhaps in time it will become that sort of camp. But for now it’s just a really big budget film where seemingly everything went wrong.

The film, in case you didn’t know/didn’t care, is based on a DC comic where a team of popular villains is brought together to fight against, uh I think, it’s alien terrorists? Sure, let’s go with that. Bless the poor person at Wikipedia who spent 1,100 words writing about the plot of this film because trying to describe it is like trying to describe a cup of noodles that got spilled on a compost bin which was then accidentally set on fire. But if that poor soul at Wikipedia can do it, I’m willing to give it my best shot, dammit! Anyway, this group includes Will Smith as Deadshot, a human machine gun who’s real superpower is making Will Smith the least annoying actor in the cast, Harley Quinn, a twisted sledgehammer wielding riot girl who looks like every girl you smoked crack with at a rave, a crocodile guy, a cholo who can set stuff on fire and some Aussie a-hole with biceps and a boomerang. They were recruited by Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis who must have lost a bet to wind up in this shitshow) who now–get this– controls their lives by an app on her phone which can kill members of the squad if they step out of line. From there, it’s a whirlwind of explosions and guffaw inducing plot twists until the big action packed showdown at the film’s climax.

In a film packed to the gills with awful stuff, I’ll narrow it down to two elements that were noteworthy. First off, the acting is really, really bad. When Viola Davis, whom I always find to be a tad over the top, gives the most nuanced performance, we are in trouble. Margot Robbie looks the part but she’s sports a Jersey accent that fades in and out from every scene. Let’s just say she does better in scenes where she kicks ass. Jared Leto as the Joker has already been given a place in history as one of the worst Jokers of all time and rightfully so. Nicholson is still the best movie Joker, by the way, and this is not open for discussion. Every scene he’s in is cringe worthy which is too bad because I’m a fan of Leto, the freaky androgynous sensitive actor/musician. But decked out in gold pants, bad tattoos and a grill(!), his Joker is a joke.

Secondly, the music. Oh my god. Look, I could have picked the script, the direction or the editing to talk about but the sheer shittiness of this soundtrack tell you all you need to know about Suicide Squad. I mean it has an Eminem song on it, for crying out loud. Eminem is musical late night Taco Bell. Sure, lots of people must do it but nobody talks about it. Yet here it is right in your face: an Eminem song and an old one at that! But given that the track shares soundtrack space with “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Super Freak” and “Spirit in the Sky”, we can only assume that the film’s music supervisor was a wedding deejay from Orange County.

I spent my two hours with Suicide Squad laughing and rolling my eyes and occasionally checking the time readout on HBONow. It’s a slog and a disaster but I had a good laugh watching it. I won’t recommend it unless you’re like me and enjoy a really bad movie from time to time. In which case, please watch it and report back to me so we can make fun of it together. Still, believe it or not, I actually got something out of it and it came from Jared Leto’s bling covered mouth:

“Desire becomes surrender. Surrender becomes power.” – The Joker

He says it in a scene, which in an act of some kind of movie PTSD I’ve forgotten, but it’s a line I couldn’t forget. After all, the whole idea of surrendering becoming power is what recovery is all about. I didn’t get my power back until I could surrender to the fact that I had a problem. And the amazing thing about this power of surrender is that once you do it, you surrender all of the time and get even more power from doing it. Omg, Joker. Mind.Blown. But in all seriousness, this is an incredible concept and when I’m in a spiritually fit place, I can still surrender. I’ve surrender about financial situations, relationships, my physical limitations, my character defects. Through this act, I get power back which sounds nuts. But it’s certainly been my experience. If I’m in the right place, I’m surrendering all day long– even if it’s just surrendering to how terrible a movie is and enjoying it anyway.

God probably sounds a lot like Mavis Staples

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Whatever you believe in that happens to be bigger yourself, that happens to be something you can’t explain, that thing that I just call God, because even though I am about as non-secular as you can get, I am also lazy and God is easy. That that thing, God, shows up in the most unlikeliest of places. Like a Rolling Stone article about a recently released live track from 2014 where the Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples cover a Talking Heads song. The song, which may be proof of a higher power in and of itself, opened a whole can of worms for me. Mainly, the undeniable miracle that is Mavis Staples.

The same article linked to the above disco gospel ballad by Arcade Fire and Staples released in January as a protest song which benefited the ACLU. As I listened to the lo-fi electro beat and the lyrics, which talk clearly about giving power and then taking it away I thought, “Of course, Mavis Staples would be here for us now.”After all, here’s a woman, who alongside her family, provided the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.Angry, teary eyed and yet somehow relieved, the song knocked me out.  Not one to slow down, Mama Mavis was also just featured on a brand new Gorillaz track. The song is another one with a powerful message made even more so when delivered by that incredible voice.

I have to be honest. Hearing these two songs back-to-back was incredibly emotional. Not only was I reminded of the fucked up times we live in but I was comforted by knowing that if there’s any hope Mavis will be around to help carry us through all of it. Raw, powerful and honest both songs pack a punch and one I didn’t expect just hanging out drinking coffee at my kitchen table. Speaking of things divine, the timing of my musical Mavis binge was certainly other worldly. I was planning on watching the documentary on her life Mavis! directed by Jessica Edwards, currently airing on HBONow, later that afternoon.

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The documentary, which was filmed in 2014 and made the rounds at festivals the following year before winding up on HBO, couldn’t be any more timely. While I am definitely not that annoying person who tells people they will or won’t feel a certain emotion when watching a film, I will say it wouldn’t be the worst idea ever to have a box of tissues nearby when viewing Mavis! Nearly 20 days of personal blogging has left me a emotional mess so my weepiness at the film could be considered suspicious however you’d have to be a Nazi Cyborg to not be moved by Mavis Staples and her incredible message.

For starters, the film profiles Mavis and Staples Singers incredible rise to fame as gospel singers who wound up singing songs of hope and message for the Civil Rights movement. The band’s personal connection with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is incredibly powerful. Pops Staples was inspired by King’s message and wanted to make music that did the same thing. Coming from Chicago, Mavis and her clan were shocked while touring the South to see the hideous racism and injustice happening to black people. And as Mavis herself notes, the struggle is sadly alive and well today and she’s vowed to keep singing about until, “Dr. King’s dream comes true.”

Staples’ list of collaborators and famous fans reads like a who’s who of rock and roll history. Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield and recent collaborator Jeff Tweedy are all mentioned or interviewed in the film but the dishiest celebrity dirt comes from Bob Dylan. Dylan, a huge fan of the group, apparently at one point asked Staples to marry him! She reaches ninja-levels of cuteness when talking about their flirtation which “may have included some kissing.”

Yet the tissues came in handy when the film showed footage of Staples working with Prince. The two made a record together that never saw the light of day, sadly, due to his all out war with Warner Brothers Records. As Staples describes Princes genius, we are treated to shots of the pair working in the studio together. While sobbing, I was reminded that nearly a year later, I’m still fucked up about that one.

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Near the end of the film, Staples and Tweedy listen to a newly restored recording of a song by her father from an album he never got to complete before he died. By this time, I was just a full-fledged tear waterfall and embraced my crying fest. It’s a beautiful moment and one Staples herself is touched by too. And of course she is because like all shining divine beings, she’s also incredibly truthful and human.

And that’s the thing about her voice. Far from the smooth voice of  an angel, Mavis gets a little rough and raspy. At times, she looks as if she’s exorcising some demons in the clips of live performances featured in the film. Mentioned more than once in the film, is her desire to keep telling the truth and to keep spreading a message and I’m convinced that’s what gives her voice that edge.

That’s why I’m pretty sure whatever my non-secular unicorn glitter god is it probably sounds like Mavis Staples. Raw, real, not always pretty but comforting to the depths of your soul. Yeah If God sounds like that than hallelujah. Plus with a career pushing past the six decade point, Staples certainly seems eternal. At the end of the film, the artist herself even hints at her own angelic future. “If you don’t see me singing here, look for me in heaven,” she says. “I’ll be walking those streets of gold and singing around God’s throne.”

a new acceptance speech

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I guess it comes as no surprise that I’ve watched nearly every telecast of the Academy Awards since about 1982. But I’ve never seen anything like last night. A screw up of epic proportions befell poor old Bonnie and Clyde and the internet is unlikely to shut the hell up about anytime soon.  Nevertheless, Moonlight ending up winning and La La Land graciously danced off stage. But the real winner last night, believe it or not in a glitter covered affair oozing with self-congratulation, was humility.

Within seconds of La La Land being mistakenly announced, my twitter feed was filled with angry fans raging about “white mediocrity” and “rigged” awards shows while some even said they’d thrown their phones and turned off their televisions. We’re so used to feeling victimized by information, (or letting ourselves feel that way rather) that we swim in the reactionary pools of the times and join the angry mob chanting, “See? We Told you. Everything is fucked!” Being a person who is still not over Sissy Spacek not winning for her brilliant work in In the Bedroom, I understand this thinking. Films are passionate things and therefore bubble up volcanic responses. In 2017, after the most contentious political season ever, we’re now more prone to react and feel like we’re being taken advantage of. Yet within moments what we thought we knew, what we were ready to rage against, had completely changed. And what had emerged was humanity, a simple mistake. Talk about the ultimate plot twist! Maybe it isn’t always bad guys winning or terrible circumstances. Maybe we just fuck up. It’s a hilarious twist and the pitch perfect dose of humanness that even the most optimistic writer of musicals couldn’t come up with. By now, all the requisite apologies have been sent out and people are embarrassed. But I think it’s poetic. Maybe the most punk rock thing you can do in an era of a president who likes to incessantly toot his own horn is to admit that you screwed up. Certainly worked for Adele a few weeks ago at the Grammy’s. Certainly works in my own life too.

Anybody who’s gotten sober or had to ask for help at any point in their life has had to muster up a shitload of humility. My own journey in sobriety is a never-ending slew of moments of me saying, “I screwed up. Can you help me?” I’m honestly tired of how many times I have to apologize, ask for help and accept things I can’t change. I mean can’t somebody else do that shit for a change? Alas, no. And so I’m lucky to continue my spiritual growth (also known as “the fuck up and clean it up program”) with the hope that maybe I’m a tad better than I was yesterday. This tablespoon of humility and acceptance, although tough for an entitled diva like myself to swallow, sure makes day-to-day living a fuck ton easier and even enjoyable. I’m getting ready to move (I know. I know. I’ve mentioned it so many damn times that this blog is starting to feel like The Secret of NIMH for fucks sake) and it’s brought up a lot of fear and old behavior. In a fancy hotel room just a few days ago, I had to admit all of this to my beloved who quickly reassured that it was all going to be okay (and it was) but the point is I wouldn’t have felt better had I pretended I was okay even though I was freaking out on the inside. I’m a human and when I remember to act like one, crazy emotions, fears and mistakes included, I just feel better.

As I type this, trolls a plenty are bashing the Oscars for that one mistake, for being human. Which is too bad. There were so many other fantastic moments to focus on. From that moving Sara Bareilles tribute to that incredible Viola Davis speech I literally spent most of the night sobbing into my mozzarella sticks. I personally found the whole show to be beautiful, celebratory and inspiring. Look, nothing is perfect. Not even Moonlight, which in my film opinion suffers from a soggy second act, timid direction and an inability to really go balls out, since you asked.

But the point is beauty is still exists and it shows up when I accept things for the fabulous fucked up, imperfect way they are.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ 50 Years Later Drinking With George & Martha is Still Terrifying

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Everybody has shown up to a party and immediately thought, “Maybe we should go.”

50 years ago today, in movie theaters, Nick and Honey wondered the same thing. Nick and Honey are nice young couple who are new at the university, so when the president of school’s daughter and her professor husband invited them to attend an after hours party, they jump at the chance. But upon entering the pair see their hosts George and Martha arguing, they wonder if they made a bad choice. And so begins the cocktail party from hell that has been inspiring movie-watchers for five decades to think twice about late-night invitations.

I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few days ago in preparation for the season 2 premiere of Sloshed Cinema. My podcast “that talks about movies that talk about drinking, drugs and getting sober” has had the film on its list for quite some time. A writer friend of mine,who is not an alcoholic, argued recently that the film and the play it’s based on aren’t really about alcoholism and certainly not about recovery. While I agree on the last thought, I have to disagree that it isn’t about alcoholism. Sure, it’s about A LOT of stuff and alcohol is certainly the lubricant for gnarly topics to come up. But George and Martha don’t drink like people in search of good time. They drink like people who want to forget. They drink like a couple who wants a way out. Edward Albee, the author of the play, from all accounts certainly grew up around alcoholism and is an alcoholic himself. After a bout of really bad behavior at a dinner party, Albee wrote,”By nature, I am a gentle, responsible, useful person, with a few special insights and gifts. With liquor, I am insane.” Sounds like me and every alcoholic I’ve ever known. Certainly sounds like George and Martha.

George and Martha(played with pitch perfect acidity by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)are bubbling volcanos of emotions who the run gamut between deep marital love and total disgust with one another even before their guests show up. Their house is messy and ramshackled. Martha does that half-assed version of drunken cleaning we alcoholics know so well. Dirty dishes shoved in a drawer, rumpled clothes shoved under the blankets before the bed is made and generally trying to make something presentable that hasn’t been so in a while. This goes double for their marriage. But the effort there is even less inspiring.

From moment one George and Martha set out to, in their words, “get the guests” meaning everything vicious, uncomfortable and unpresentable is now on display and at times gleefully so. In true alcoholic fashion, Martha takes particular delight in tearing George down in public and George can go toe-to-toe with Martha all without spilling a drop of his drink. The writing in those first scenes is solid gold. There’s no wonder the play is performed almost daily on stages of all sizes around the globe. Alcohol, in my mind, is almost the fifth character in the film. It makes George and Martha go wild. It pushes poor Honey to the point of vomiting. And it loosens Nick’s lips and clouds his judgement. The whole charade and destructive dance is familiar to anyone who has ever been in an alcoholic relationship. Sure, in the film you could walk away with the idea that this was a one time thing but for those of us who’ve been there, we assume this is just another Saturday night for George and Martha. There came a point in my drinking that I wasn’t fun to be around. That me and my significant other at the time were toxic and not a couple you wanted to drink with. George and Martha are at that point. There’s something that happens with alcoholics who drink together. They live with lie after lie and pour alcohol on these lies in hopes of having them vanish. Yet at the same time they really want to tell it like it is and let their version for the truth shoot out of their mouths. It’s vital. A lot of this happens in the film. George and Martha want these virtual strangers to know their truths or their lies and they both want to be seen and heard. Albee himself said the title means “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, which means who’s afraid of living life without delusions?” I’m probably not alone when I say fear and delusion were huge parts of my drinking.

As a sober person, I found myself cringing a lot when I watched this movie again. I’d seen it dozens of times, mostly when I was drinking and caught it a few years ago on stage. It struck me how sharp Albee’s language is 50 years later, how breathtaking the performances are and how Albee, whether he set out to or not, perfectly painted a marriage destroyed by regret, anger and yes, alcohol. I, myself hosted or participated in more than one cringe worthy cocktail function or as the B52-s called them a “party gone out of bounds”. My intention, I thought anyway, was simply to have a good time. But now I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear what Martha’s intention is which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to feel my life and I wasn’t having a good time. Like ever. Liquor never made it all go away. It made me crazier, sad and terrible to be around. Just like our hosts. I think it deserves a place in the conversation about movies that talk about drinking because it nails the insanity that a couple who drinks together feels on a regular basis.

Yet there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film. Some fantastic trivia, Liz and Dick alone could eat up 2,000 words and all of the crazy ass symbolism in the text has been chewed over by drama nerds for decades. So it’s a good thing that Sloshed Cinema is back! There’s so much to gab about with this film, I’ve even invited my buddy Amy along to the party. Join us, why dontcha? I promise you won’t regret it.

Listen to the season premiere of Sloshed Cinema here & here! 

 

‘Love & Friendship’ & Me

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The wonder of looking at a CGI dinosaur lumber across the screen has long worn off. We now yawn while watching superheros battle it out high above a city landscape. Bubbling volcanos, the Earth splitting open, mythical beasts. Seen it. Over it. Next! We’ve been bombarded by so many big budget digital blasts that they no longer look cool or memorable. So when a movie like Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship comes along with dialogue that crackles and jumps off the screen, you truly savor the moment.

Stillman, the underrated genius behind indie classics like Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco, tells us right away that the special effect of Love & Friendship is the words. Clever captions done with his signature wit adorn characters’ faces as introductions, not just to players of this biting, heartwarming tale but as a technique he’ll use throughout the film. Letters, poems, items read aloud are also given a visible onscreen scroll. But ever the master of taste and manners, Stillman doesn’t let this trick overstay its welcome. He instead dishes it out at precisely the right occasion. And in the world of Love & Friendship, timing is everything. Based on a forgotten Jane Austen novella entitled Lady Susan from the late 1700’s, the movie shows up long after the 90’s trend of Austen movies has run its course. Instead it arrives at moment when the movies need gleefully bitchy and delightfully snarky conversation more than ever. Given the twist of Stillman’s pen, Austen has never felt so alive or of the moment.

The story, like most good ones, is easy: Lady Susan (played with career-best finesse by Kate Beckinsale) is a widow who couch crashes in English estates while breaking hearts and pissing off uppity ladies of the manor wherever she lands. Lady Susan needs to put her puppet master skills to work if she wants to keep food in her belly and roof over her head. Turns out, the gig of widow isn’t really a high paying one.  Lady Susan also has a train wreck of a teenage daughter recently bounced from a private school she has to figure what to do with too. Don’t let the publicity stills of ladies in costume grasping each other’s hands fool you: the work of Love & Friendship is dirty business and delightfully so. Lady Susan can handle the task of securing a rich husband for herself and her daughter but she needs a collaborator. That’s when American gal pal Alicia(Chloe Sevigny) comes in. Sevigny and Beckinsale played frenimies back in 1998 in Stillman’s own Last Days of Disco. Here, however, the pair personify the “friendship” part of the film’s title. Banned by her husband from seeing Lady Susan, Alicia nevertheless always finds a way to help her buddy move the chess pieces in any way she can. Their affection for one another is so genuine that when the pair triumphs, we rejoice right along with them. With all of the shady letter passing and life manipulating going on in Love & Friendship, it’s hard not to think of Dangerous Liaisons. But this film uses humor instead of destruction as its way in. And boy is it funny. Stillman peppers the script with so many great one-liners you might feel inclined to watch it again just to catch the ones you laughed over the first time around. There are two or three really smart on-going inside jokes that thread through the movie which let us laugh along with the characters too. Throw in some truly great comic performances (Tom Bennett as Sir James is a real standout) and you have a film that’s as funny as it is devious.

Personally, as both a word nerd and a movie fanatic, Love & Friendship checked all of the boxes. I’m my happiest at a film when smart characters are saying smart things. Stillman assumes we the audience can keep up and that alone, in the age of Marvel-ization filmmaking, feels revelatory. From knockout performances and gorgeous costumes to great pacing and yes wonderful dialogue, the film’s unheard of 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is no mystery. There’s a lot of chatter online from fans of the film that Stillman should go back and direct versions of all Jane Austen books. Given his fresh take on Austen, it’s hard not to hop on that bandwagon. Yet what makes Love & Friendship so good is how individual it is and that’s something, like a good friendship, to truly cherish.