In the likable, quicksilver British comedy Antonia & Jane, the title characters are a couple of London women who have nothing in common but are friends anyway. Jane (Imelda Staunton) is a worrywart, a frumpy, awkward mess who dresses like Raggedy Ann and has a beady-eyed gaze that’s equal parts insecurity and anger. Antonia (Saskia Reeves), beautiful and silky-chic, is the sort who gets doors opened for her. Early on, Jane meets a guy she’s crazy about, a loutish photographer (Bill Nighy) who doesn’t give a damn about her. Then, right under her nose, Antonia steals him away and marries him. That should be the end of the friendship, but the two women go on meeting once a year for a ritual reunion dinner.
The movie, which clocks in at a brisk 77 minutes (it was originally made for the BBC), is really just a sketchbook, a series of mildly absurd satirical scenes. There are therapy sessions (conveniently, both women see the same shrink); encounters with men who are dull, weird, and kinky; and some amusing fantasies in which the heroines’ dilemmas get replayed on television and at the movies. The director, Beeban Kidron, has been compared to the early Woody Allen, but Allen built his movies around his obsession with The Joke, the cathartic punch line. In Antonia & Jane, the comedy is far gentler. Most of it springs less from zingy verbal wit than from the air of zonked indifference with which Antonia and Jane regard their precarious romantic lives.
In spirit, the movie is the definition of blithe. Everything that happens — from broken dates to broken marriages, from Jane’s ranting away in the psychiatrist’s office to Antonia’s bed-room encounter with a fellow who gets aroused by having his face smeared with jam and then identifying the brand — has the same tone of genial inconsequentiality. Kidron, though, isn’t just tossing around whimsical gags like confetti. Antonia & Jane is very much a film of its era. The movie has been made from the vantage point of a breezy romantic cynic, one who has learned to see the ups and downs of love not in the way the early Woody did — as an ongoing hormonal crisis — but as one more element in the helter-skelter landscape of modern life. Romance, the movie says, isn’t dead. It’s just gotten a lot smaller. B