A highbrow festival like Toronto doesn't offer many opportunities to laugh, and I was grateful for this one. Easy Virtue, an adaptation of an early Noël Coward play, is a droll and witty delight, a superb showcase for its cast, and a return to fine form for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert director Stephan Elliott, who last turned in the unsettling but incomprehensible Eye of the Beholder nearly 10 years ago. Where most TIFF films seemed to glower at me from the screen, this one winked and smiled.
Noël Coward may seem a strange choice for Elliott, whose films have favored the bizarre and the obscure. I don't know what attracted the filmmaker to this project, but I'm glad that something did. The material may seem almost purely verbal, all clever turns of phrase and sardonic interjections (what Americans think of as "Britishness"), but Elliott is constantly concerned with how the movie looks and sounds. Fittingly, he manages to give it a curious, otherworldly feel. This is most pronounced in the opening sequence, which marries choppy black-and-white footage, odd angles, and a jazzy soundtrack to introduce us to the characters and transport us to a universe that is ever so slightly off-kilter. It's a welcome recognition that these hyper-literate, impeccably constructed old comedies – Coward, Wilde, etc. – don't take place in a world quite like ours.