Directors Jonathan Lisecki and Alex Appel’s new romantic comedy, Modern Persuasion, is a charming take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The film follows the story of Wren Cosgrove, a single workaholic and oft-proclaimed cat lady, discovering romance and revisiting memories of lost love. Wren must confront her ex-boyfriend, and their former relationship, after his company hires her publicity firm. This is not Lisecki’s first foray into the romantic comedy genre, as he previously directed Gayby, released in 2012. Lisecki also cowrote Modern Persuasion, sharing writing credit with Barbara Radecki. Modern Persuasion has a promising supporting cast, featuring Bebe Neuwirth, Mark Moses, and Shane McRae. These actors deliver strong performances, rounding out the story.
Wren Cosgrove, played by Alicia Witt, is the typical protagonist for a romantic comedy. She is cute and quirky, pretty and approachable, and clumsy yet charming. She plays her role with a fun, light energy, keeping the momentum of the scenes steadily moving. Even in scenes where she is only talking to her cat, she remains fun to watch. Audiences can easily root for her as she seeks happiness and success, which is a key ingredient in the success of a romantic comedy. Shane McRae as Owen Jasper plays well opposite her, bringing charisma and confidence to his scenes, and the two are convincing as a former pair.
The supporting cast are in turns zany, funny, and over-the-top. The film certainly takes a silly and exaggerated style in scenes featuring larger groups of characters, which can at times be almost too much. The structure of the cast, however, ends up being well-balanced, thanks in large part to the talent of each supporting actor. Bebe Neuwirth leads the pack, delivering by far the strongest performance. Playing Wren’s aunt Vanessa, Neuwirth is everything you want to see in a supporting character in a romantic comedy–supportive of the main character, funny, and instrumental in driving forward both the plot and our understanding of Wren. Neuwirth’s Vanessa is the cool, well-connected aunt everyone wishes they had. Mark Moses is also fun to watch as Grayson Keller. While the character is not always likeable, Moses makes him fun and interesting.
What Modern Persuasion truly does well is in regards to its costume design by Amit Gajwani. A romantic comedy needs to achieve the balance of a stylish main character, whose wardrobe audiences want to own every piece of, and trendy supporting characters with distinctive individual styles. This film hits it out of the park. Wren is polished and envy-inducing in every scene, and the supporting characters’ costuming helps establish each character’s identity. In particular, Kate (Daniella Pineda) is dressed almost too trendy, which becomes a plot point as well as a character element.
Overall, Modern Persuasion is a satisfying and fun watch. The story moves at a steady pace, following some well-loved romantic comedy formulas but still holding a few tricks up its sleeve. The third act of the film makes direct references to the novel it is inspired by, including actual quotes at pivotal plot points, which is an exciting addition for any Jane Austen fans. The characters are developed enough that we are interested in them, and root for even the smaller supporting characters to succeed. While the tone of the film can sometimes feel silly or the dialog a tad unnatural, the film as a complete product is certainly enjoyable, delivering on what fans expect from a romantic comedy. Fans of romantic comedy, or anyone looking for a fun, easy to watch, and lively movie, should definitely give Modern Persuasion a try.