"I don't feel like smiling."
"You're English, dear. Fake it."
-Veronica and Marion Whittaker
There have been several films which have dealt with a parent accepting a new daughter/son-in-law into his/her life. There are good ones with this theme, such as the underrated Only the Lonely (1991), and bad ones, like the laugh-free comedy The Family Stone (2005).
Happily, Easy Virtue falls into the former category. John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) returns home to his family mansion after spending time in Monaco. He brings with him an unusual surprise: his new bride Larita (Jessica Biel), who is a successful racecar driver. Almost immediately, she incurs the ire of her new mother-in-law, Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas), who tries to get the other members of her household to view Larita with the same distaste that she does. Veronica succeeds where her youngest daughter Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) is concerned, especially when Larita accidentally kills Hilda's chihuahua and when Philip Hurst (Christian Brassington), the brother of John's former love Sarah (Charlotte Riley), shows more interest in her than in Hilda. John doesn't help matters when he seems uninterested in finding a home for himself and Larita and when his sense of responsibility leads to him investing more into his family, which has seven generations of farmers. Further fuel to the anti-Larita fire is added when Hilda realizes that she had a hand in the death of her first husband.
Larita does her best to simply apologize for her mistakes and basically put a smile on and offer an olivebranch to the family, which includes a lavish Thanksgiving feast she prepares. The only ally she gains is John's unhappy father Jim (Colin Firth).
The ending of the film is both unpredictable and satisfying. Rather than making amends, Larita simply tells off Veronica for being such a domineering control freak and her children, including John, for becoming mindless slaves to her every whim. Larita even tells Sarah that she can (basically) have John back. This makes the ending scene with Larita allowing Jim to join her as she drives off all the better. Unlike other films, like the aforementioned Family Stone, where the audience knows who the protagonist should be with long before he/she does, here the match up at the climax happens naturally. Jim doesn't make eyes at his daughter-in-law, but he does show her some basic respect. It's also clear, as the film goes on, that he doesn't exactly view life with Veronica as ideal as he once may have. He slowly but surely realizes that Larita is a breath of fresh air not only by the way she tells Veronica off but also by the way she relates to people in general. This infatuation comes out when he dances with Larita at the party during the film's climax when no one else, not even John, will. Firth has always been a fine actor, and his performance here is no exception to that. He walks away with the picture.
Some may think that The Illusionist (2006) is the only movie Biel's been in that's any good, but this film will come as a pleasant surprise.