Austenland wins as syrupy unpredictable chick flick
Rating: 4.5 hearts (out of 5)
Keri Russell, elegant, brave, feisty, radiant, demure… she is something of an Emma Woodhouse of indie films. Though the Sundance Festival 2013 pick Austenland didn’t spend much time in the movie theatres as Austenites and Mr. Darcy fan-girls would have liked, this film proved to be yet another success for this actress since Adrienne Shelley’s final movie Waitress.
Russell trades in her pregnant southern belle waitress uniform for petticoats and needlepoint as Jane Hayes, a.k.a. Miss Erstwhile, a thirty-something spinster with an obsessive love for Pride and Prejudice and all of Jane Austen’s Regency tales. Armed with her needlepoint and thorough knowledge of ladylike Regency graces, Jane spends her entire life savings on a trip to an immersive Jane Austen resort in England after a bet that she made with her best friend. If she lost, she would have to get rid of everything Austen in her bedroom, from the life size Colin Firth as Darcy cut out (all of her boyfriends punched its head at least once until the cardboard ripped) to the squeaking Mr. Darcy and Regency dolls.
Losing, in this case, would mean being disappointed from her stay and never finding love or a life changer through this experience.
Upon arriving, Jane finds that she could only afford the “commoner” package rather than the wealthy suites everyone else had. The other ladies chastise and ridicule her, the husband of the owner constantly hits on her and tries to make a move on her, and the Mr. Darcy actor (or so she thinks, played by J.J. Field) keeps an incredibly large distance from her. Thankfully, she finds romantic refuge from a servant named Martin, who happens to be a veterinarian after watching him help a horse give birth, until we realize that even outside the “play set” it’s all a façade.
Although this was from the screenwriter of Napoleon Dynamite and co-produced by the dreaded author of the Twilight books, Stephanie Meyer (insert gagging noises), the entire film is laughable, with key moments from each of the Austen novels. Jennifer Coolidge (Sophie on CBS’s 2 Broke Girls) steals the show as the sexually inappropriate Emma character Elizabeth Charming playing opposite the flamboyant officer performer Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis. Still, I have to turn my head and plug my ears when I hear Russell singing “It’s getting hot in here/ so take off all your clothes…” in the middle of the drawing room. (insert more gagging noises)
However, the one spectacular performance was J.J. Field’s Mr. Henry Nobley, who after performing in Masterpiece Theatre’s film adaptation Northanger Abbey as another Austen hero he has never lost his touch as sweet and flirty Henry Tilney, and also pulled off a handsome and surly Mr. Darcy sound alike. He maintained his composure like one of the actors, then gloriously fumbled once he stepped out of the resort to meet Jane at the airport, and started a Bridget Jones worthy fight with New Zealander Martin.
Probably my favorite Austen worthy insults from that scene were: “Couldn’t you get a job on The Hobbit?” “That’s it, Shakespeare.”
Either way, it was difficult to find who the Mr. Wickham was and who Jane would end up with. But when I did find who represented which character, I felt surprised in a way that my eyes really welled up with tears at the very last scene where the only non-actor shows up at Jane’s doorstep. By the end of the movie, I wanted to cry part happy/ part sad tears, for the delivery of the line “You are my fantasy” made me realize that unless something changed soon I would never have a love like that.
Is there a real immersive Austen theme park somewhere? Where do I sign?
This may as well be the first unpredictable romantic comedy that possibly did a lot more success with Jane Austen lovers and chick lit/ flick demographics, myself included. As a writer, Austenland fooled me several times until it finally set me straight, and now I am adding the book it was based on to my “Do” Read List.
Fresh, funny, proper, and slightly unorthodox, this will win any Regency and hopeless romantic heart as it did mine.