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Easy Virtue

The upper class is not amused in this British comedy

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In the late 1920s, the very proper country estate of the oh-so-British Whittakers is rocked by the arrival of the scion's new bride, a vivacious, oh-so-modern American woman who races automobiles. This is a mostly frothy re-work by Stephan Elliott of a Noel Coward play, and purists are best advised to stay home sorting their 78s. What unfolds is meant to be a witty, tragicomic parlor-room piffle in which the stuffy elites are taken down a peg, the Lost Generation is mourned one last time, and the kicky new class of youth laughingly drive off into a (oh, one does so hope!) class-free future. There are moments when it works, even if it all seems a bit done before: Kristin Scott Thomas is the imperious lady of the manor, Jessica Biel her Yankee foil, and their sniping is amusing. But it's hard to sustain both screwball comedy and a critique, particularly if the targets are a rarefied group who've long since left the stage. (When was the last time the gentry was shocked by a Thanksgiving dinner, or the lack of tennis skills?) Elliott, who made the divine hybrid Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, here can't quite seem to hit the target. The clothes are pretty, the banter breezy, but his "modern touches" grow distracting. The Jazz Age pop-musical stylings employed as Greek chorus get a little too cute, especially the reworking of anachronistic tunes like "Car Wash." Pass the smelling salts. Starts Fri., June 19. Manor

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