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My TV Dinner

Every Friday The Social's digital correspondent, Jessica Allen, answers two questions we face every day. What should I eat? And what should I watch? The answer for one is frequently found in the other.

That time Jessica Allen gave Whit Stillman an apple after they made a web video

Love & Friendship has Jessica reflecting on her almost friendship with Stillman

I once gave an apple to the director Whit Stillman. We were alone in a hotel room making a web video.

Let me start over: We’d just finished filming a 10-minute discussion during a Toronto International Film Festival junket for Damsels in Distress, Stillman’s first movie in 13 years.

Everyone left the room, save for us two. He paused for what felt like an eternity, his gaze fixed upon my canvas tote bag stuffed with the fruit (it’s another story, entirely.) I asked if he’d like one. He accepted.

That was five years ago. The video footage was lost so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that while it certainly wasn’t love, it could’ve been the beginning of a friendship— if the PR person hadn’t removed me from the room.

Coincidentally, Love & Friendship is the title of Stillman’s latest film, which opens in select theatres on Friday. It’s an adaptation of a little-known novella by Jane Austen called Lady Susan that was published posthumously.

Kate Beckinsale plays the title character, a widow and bon vivant, who’s searching for a husband for her daughter, and herself. Chloe Sevigny, who starred alongside Beckinsale in Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, is Lady Susan’s crafty friend. And yes, there are two potential suitors.

Although it’s de rigueur to modify — adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice, for example — and modernize — Clueless is a take on Emma — Austen’s work, Stillman sets his story firmly in the Georgian drawing rooms and countryside estates of the 1790s. And he doesn’t consider the source material to be more contemporary than her other works.

“That’s something that’s said a lot now,” he recently told the New York Times, “like if you want to sell people on going to see something that’s set in the past. They say, ‘Oh this has a snarky, modern sensibility.’ And I don’t want to say that at all, because I rather prefer the 18th century. For me, it’s not a good thing to say it’s contemporary.”

Still, his dry wit and heavy-on-dialogue films featuring characters discoursing on decorum, privilege, and class, which have influenced the likes of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, are not dissimilar to Austen’s work.

So what took him so long to tackle it? For starters, the 64-year-old director has made only five films in some 25 years. Plus: “My theory in the ’90s was that I didn’t want to take a Jane Austen book I loved and reduce it to a 90-minute movie,” he says. “The Emma Thompson-Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility was beautiful, but other ones I didn’t think justice was being done.”

That Sense and Sensibility is one of my top five favourite films — and Thompson is responsible for my all-time favourite award speech when she won the Golden Globe for her screenplay at the 1995 ceremony (Google it!) Every time I watch the film, I want to paint our apartment entirely in Wedgwood blue.

On a recent night we settled into our (taupe) living room and debated whether we should watch Metropolitan, Stillman’s 1990 first feature film about New York socialites, which I have never seen, or Sense and Sensibility, again. While Simon appreciates Austen, he can’t understand why I’d want to repeatedly re-watch something because time is limited.

He also can’t understand why anyone would make a crisp other than apple. But the rhubarb at my green grocer was a brilliant pink and I couldn’t resist. We ate it while watching Sense and Sensibility, again.

 “It’s research,” I said.

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