A Proposal: Two Versions (al dente)

The return of Edward Ferrars in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” is quietly hilarious. Hugh Grant, his Hugh Grantness operating at 150%, sits on a cross-stitch hoop and quietly hands it over, without comment, to the nearby Marianne (Kate Winslet in her flushiest role). He idly fingers the ear of a porcelain sheep on the mantle in his pre-proposal anxiety. As he arrives, the Dashwoods calmly remove their aprons and settle in for Whatever the Fuck This Guy’s Story’s Going to Be Considering That He is Supposedly Married and Oh Yeah The Whole Willoughby Thing. After Edward tells Elinor (Emma Thompson’s toothiest role) that he’s as-yet unmarried, the non-Elinor Dashwood ladies leave the house to pace at the bank of a riverbed, with Margaret at lookout in her treehouse. Compare this to the end of Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice,” which plays for more obvious laughs: the (masculine) POV shot of the Bennet women calm and proper after they remove their aprons post freaking-the-fuck-out at the return of Bingley and Darcy. Consider Wright’s heroes, who pace on the riverbank, and dither about for the permission of Mr. Bennet/Donald Sutherland’s teeth to marry Jane and Elizabeth.

The two scenes trade on imagery, but the feminism is all Lee’s. While Wright’s vision of a double engagement is apron-free pinch-blushing Victorian bae–and how we laugh at those silly girls–Lee gives the Dashwoods grace and composure, making Elinor’s breakdown all the more cathartic. Kiera Knightley’s teeth are very excited about the proposition of 10,000 a year, but Elinor’s, whose betrothed is a (newly) low and happy clergyman, are nowhere (for once) to be found. Lee gives us the weight of primogeniture and the desperation of spinsterhood, while Wright’s beautiful cast is rom-com all the way.

For my own engagement, I was wearing red City High sweatpants and a mismatched gray sweatshirt. I had not showered in, perhaps, three days. It was a few days before Christmas and I was tired. We were still, as far as I knew, recovering from a really terrible fight wherein one of us stalked off and left the other with a big bar bill to pay and a long subway ride home alone.

It should not be a surprise that I favor Lee’s version, wherein a pair of teeth, in the midst of gnashing, covers itself. It is, after all, the fancy but empty Robert Ferrars who irritates the Dashwoods with his rude and laborious choice of a toothpick case at a London jeweller.