If you were wondering why I bother to write movie reviews, part of it is because movie reviewing has long been dominated my men. Some of them are wonderful (looking back at you fondly, Roger Ebert). Many of them are self-proclaimed intellectuals that are very pleased with themselves. The early critics buzz on Austenland was quite negative, so I had no expectations. But as I found myself enjoying this silly, cotton-candy romance, I wondered why all the early snark against it. Oh yeah, Austenland is totally a chick-flick.
I’m a gal that rolls her eyes at formula “women’s movies” but then finds herself sobbing at the occasional Nicholas Sparks adaptation (damn you, Dear John!). But I loved loved LOVED the 1995 Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice (my god, who DOESN’T?!?!), so found the premise of Austenland intriguing. I would never buy a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Mr. Darcy like Keri Russell’s character Jane, but I am not one to judge.
When 30-something singleton Jane decides to blow a bunch of money to go to England to “live” in the world of Jane Austen for a week (“Austenland”? I do not understand why this actually does NOT exist!), I was on board. Sure the stable boy Martin (Bret McKenzie), the faux-Darcy Mr. Nobley (JJ Field), and the romancing Colonel Andrews (James Callis) are all actors paid to fawn over the lady-guests (including Jennifer Coolidge and Georgia King), but why not live the fantasy, just for a short time? The battle between staying in the period (hiding cell phones, sneaking a listen to 70s power-ballads) is a struggle sometimes, but it is all in good fun. As the week progresses, the line between what is real and what is scripted for the guests becomes vague as Jane finds herself in the middle of her own Austen-esque romantic muddle.
All throughout Austenland, I kept having a nagging feeling that the humor could have been sharper, more wicked perhaps. You can’t help but wonder what the Best in Show crew could have done with such a ripe premise. But you know what? I laughed. There is something sweet, harmless, and, yes, romantic about such a fluffy escape. Coolidge and Callis are especially having an over-the-top good time, and it is quite clever to cast Jane Seymour (whose own period romance Somewhere in Time lures fans to Mackinac Island annually) as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the puppetmaster of the proceedings. Purists may scoff at the commercialization of Austen (hey, have you heard of Dickens World?), but I think most fans will find Austenland to be a hoot.