Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review: Austenland

*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. 

Austenland 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 her walls.

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 resident Darcy.

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 McKenzie.
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.

Grade: B+

*For 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.

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