In my quest to view all things Austen, we have this particularly perfumery version of one of my favorites. Scents and Sensibility transposes Sense and Sensibility from Devonshire and London to what I think is Colorado…it’s never very clear. But the rest of the bones of the story are there, (sort of) so let’s dive in, and see what the creative geniuses behind this movie did with one of the classics of English Literature!
Lights up on the Dashwood Family, where Marianne just graduated with a degree in English, Elinor has been working for her father at an investment firm, and Margaret has leukemia. Also, Marianne is dating John Willoughby, who got a job through Mr. Dashwood in Switzerland. Then the FBI raids, and Mr. Dashwood is arrested for being a Colorado Bernie Madoff, and he is sentenced to 76 years in prison, and now all the Dashwood women have to get real jobs and move out of their tacky house. Elinor and Marianne have a townhouse that has been paid for, so they are okay in terms of living situations, but Mom and Margaret move off-screen for the rest of the movie. But her leukemia medicine bills are the spectre that looms large on everyone’s minds.
No one wants to hire Elinor because she’s a Dashwood, so she ends up working in a spa as a janitor. Spa is run by Fran Ferrars, with Lucy at the front desk. Marianne gets a job as a copy assistant at a marketing firm, but she does so by misrepresenting herself, calling herself Marianne Webb. I call shenanigans right away, because you have to show ID in order to get an actual paycheck, and I know she doesn’t have a social security card with that name on it. But whatever. And copy assistant at a marketing firm doesn’t involve reading and editing, it involves a Xerox machine, with heavy emphasis on collating. And Willoughby heads to Switzerland, or so he says. Marianne also has a hobby of making lotion, and Elinor shares her largess at the spa with some people with arthritis, and it works wonders, in between Elinor scrubbing toilets and other things. But they need the money to pay for Margaret’s medicine!!!
Marianne’s first day introduces her to Brandon, a senior management hottie with floppy hair. I’ve actually seen this actor before, and he’s still cute. When he makes a grammar error on one of his presentations, Marianne is all about to fix it – way to use that English degree! – but her no-nonsense boss says no, don’t – which leads to Brandon being super pissed at Marianne on top of being super attracted to her. It’s confusing, for him, at least.
We are still a hero short in this story, so enter Edward, who meets cute with Elinor late at the spa where she is singing an open domain version of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” while scrubbing the bathroom floor. They are both in such deep smit with each other within seconds of meeting, you can practically see the heart eyes on their faces. Edward is not as cute as Brandon…which is counter to most casting of this story. Love David Morrissey, but have you seen Dan Stevens? (I met him once. Such eyes!) (Shout out to Hugh Grant in the Emma Thompson one, but this one is better. Sorry, but it is).
Anyway. Willoughby is lying about Switzerland, and is instead going out with fast food heiresses behind Marianne’s back. Fran wants Lucy to steal Marianne’s magic lotion from Elinor’s locker so she can monetize it (as she’s having severe, Sir Walter Eliot financial issues). Lucy will do it if Fran sets her up with Edward – oh, btw, Edward is a patent lawyer and that will be important. Meanwhile, Elinor and Edward go bowling, and Ashley Williams, who plays Elinor, gives the weirdest face in this scene – it’s like tons of teeth and a granite smile. It’s very off-putting, but luckily she does it facing away from Edward, because he likes her just fine.
Back at the spa, Fran is giving Elinor a lot of Cinderella Evil Stepmother chores, like clean the tub, and the toilet some more, etc. What kind of a spa has a tub that people would get into? And what kind of a spa would have a tub that has a 7 inch hair clog in the drain? Because I would never, ever, want to go to there. But Fran’s chores, are they necessary, or is she spiteful? She already looks down on Elinor because her dad was a crook. It reads mean.
Brandon is trying to romance Marianne, taking her to gardens, showing off the flowers in this city that is in the middle of nowhere but near mountains. They seem to really like each other. It’s ’cause of the floppy hair. I’m convinced.
Marianne sees Willoughby with the fast food heiress and is super upset, but oddly, she doesn’t want to burn him in effigy, she wants to hear his side.
So, as we run down the story – Brandon finds out that Marianne lied about her last name, but doesn’t judge her. Elinor finds out that Marianne lied about her name and totally judges her, calls her selfish for keeping the marketing jobs to herself, and not being a martyr and using the Dashwood last name. I kind of am split on this one. If no one was hiring, I would use a different name too – although as I’ve said before, that whole house of cards falls down with a well-placed W2.
Fran gets her hands on a bottle of the special, holy grail lotion and has some lab guys break it down. They can’t figure it out, so Fran calls John Willoughby to sweet-talk it out of Marianne, blackmailing him about Eliza Williams, a girl he got pregnant. He could get disinherited! The horror! But he tries really hard, sending Marianne a ton of flowers, and Brandon gets the sad times when he realizes he might not have a shot with the cute copy girl after all. (Aside – this type of rom-com office situation sets every girl entering the workplace up for failure. There were no cute guys who were both single and not gay in all the offices I worked at after college! End of Aside).
Lucy tells Elinor that Edward stole the lotion, not Fran, and then Fran adds insult to injury and implies that Edward was just romancing Elinor to get the lotion off her hands. Let’s all say it together, THOSE BITCHES! Elinor is so downtrodden, you guys. She just can’t win. It used to be so easy, you know, when her dad was stealing from other people and they didn’t have to worry about money. But now they have to live in the real world! Ugh. Real World Sucks. Can’t we all go live in Austenland? (For reals, though, can we????)
On a separate side note, there is a lot of cell phone calling in this movie, and they all have the dumbest ring tones ever. It’s all weird songs that sound like Christian Rock, but isn’t. I find it hard to believe that those things are available on iTunes. Anyway. Brandon thinks Marianne is back with Willoughby, so he breaks things off with Marianne, and then Elinor ices out Edward for being such a dick (as she thinks) and Willoughby gets Marianne to show him how to make the special lotion, so for a minute, Fran is on top!
Then it all comes crumbling down. Edward confronts Elinor and they figure out Fran is the one who is stealing, with Willoughby’s help. Marianne confronts Willoughby and he a) has the gall to say he’s in love with her but that he couldn’t be with her because it would be bad for him and b) grabs her roughly by the arm, at which time Brandon arrives on his metaphoric white horse and punches W in the face, without messing up his floppy hair. It was most satisfying.
Final act- Girls and their Chosen Guys work together to hoist Fran by her own petard. What does that actually mean? I don’t know. But since Edward is a patent attorney an Brandon works in marketing, it’s all such an easy thing to fix! And Marianne gets to use her English degree by proof-reading Brandon’s copy. Good for you, recognizing your own shortcomings, Brandon.
So Fran gets her comeuppance, which is a very satisfying thing, as Fanny Dashwood and her atrocious family NEVER get their just desserts in the novel. They continue on as they are, and are never bothered by their awful behavior. But Fran goes bankrupt and ends up becoming a janitor.
Marianne and Brandon get married, at that garden he took her to. Elinor is a bridesmaid and she is wearing a red dress with a black shrug and it just looks stupid. Costume designer!!!! What are you SMOKING on this movie? Marianne and Brandon drive off in a golf cart and Edward and Elinor are happy and he proposes and The End.
There are some final title cards so we know what happens, but do we really care? The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
Things I liked about this movie: Floppy Haired Brandon. The fact that S&S got some love, as it’s mostly updates to Pride and Prejudice that are the mainstay. Good update to the dad died and didn’t leave us any money plot device. Um….did I mention Floppy Haired Brandon? This is selling the movie short, as it is perfectly serviceable, but if I really need another S&S hit, I’ll re-watch the PBS version. Which I think I must do on the next rainy day when my kids are away from the TV. If necessary, I’ll watch this one again, but only just so you don’t have to.