*This review was originally posted in January during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It is being reposted in connection with Austenland's theatrical release this week.
tells the story of Jane, an early-30s Austen aficionado played by Keri
Russell whose seemingly sole escape from hum-drum existence is her
passionate obsession for Pride and Prejudice and, particularly, Colin
Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy. A cardboard cutout of the proud man (or
was he prejudiced? I can never tell) guards her doorway and a collection
of antique tea pots, dolls, embroideries and other paraphernalia line
After a rude and depressing advance from a homely
co-worker, Jane decides to blow a small fortune to go to Austenland, a
fully-immersive, Austen-inspired Regency Era experience in England,
lorded over by former Bond girl Jane Seymour. There, all modern
contraptions are done away with for a summer of gowns, pheasant hunting,
balls and hired actors paid to romance and woo the young women who had
always dreamed of living out one of Austen's novels.
It is there
we meet the remainder of our cast, a one-percenter who's never picked up
a book, much less P&P (Jennifer Coolidge), Georgia King as the
third participant in the experience and the three actors trained to woo
them, Ricky Whittle, James Callis and, most importanly, JJ Feild as the
Amidst the role playing and Tom Foolery, Jane runs
into and strikes up an unscripted friendship with Martin (Flight of the
Concord's Bret McKenzie), a grounds worker at the resort who makes up
the third prong in the fim's central love triangle.
The movie is,
unrepentantly, a romantic comedy, but Jerusha's attention to both
P&P detail as well as her penchant for the absurd (she co-wrote
Sundance darling Napoleon Dynamite) elevate Austenland above the genre
fold. Coolidge, channeling her loud-mode character from Legally Blond
can be a little tiring at first, but as Jane takes center stage in the
plot and Coolidge is pushed more to the sidelines the crazy man/straight
man balance finds its mark.
Also, Russell is as charming as ever
(which is saying something) as Jane, and she trades effortlessly from
Elizabeth Bennett-esque quips with Feild to schoolgirl-with-a-crush with
Between the Austenphiles and Twilight crowd (Austeland
was produced by Stephanie Meyer), I expect Austenland (which was
acquired by Sony) will make buckets of money in theaters. In this case,
however, it's a chick flick that earns its success.
SLC audiences, co-screenwriter Shannon Hale will hold special
post-screening Q&As with audience members at the Broadway Center
Theater on Friday Aug. 23 and Saturday Aug. 24 (7 p.m. screenings).
Tickets can be purchased here.