Movies: Austenland

On the heels of reading some Jane Austen, I had to watch this movie, right?

Let me begin by saying, as an undergrad I had a roommate who was a fan of the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice and known to watch it repeatedly whenever she was feeling down. This young woman strove to uphold the kinds of manners and propriety of the Austen era. She favored Empire-waisted gowns whenever gowns were called for (and she positively looked for reasons for which they might be called). She baked Regency type dishes.

In short, she was a romantic. And there is nothing wrong with that, within reason. And this roommate of mine was not, say, incapable of functioning in modern society. So, you know, to each her own and everyone needs a hobby. And I can't really be one to talk since I was watching things like Highlander and Babylon 5 at the time.

What I mean to show in all this is that I know people like Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) exist. I've lived with one of them. And at first I wasn't sure if the movie meant to make fun of such people or encourage them. But neither option was optimal to my way of thinking. One is plain mean and the other is fueling a fire that is best kept moderate.

Truly, I had no real expectations of Austenland anyway. The reviews had been somewhat lackluster (30% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, though 56% of viewers liked it). I think I may have read the book some years ago, or a book with a very similar conceit, but I don't remember enough about it to even know . . . Which probably says something about the book . . .

So I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the movie.

In short, the film is about the aforementioned Jane, long a lover of Austen's works, who blows her savings on a trip to the titular Austenland, an immersive Austen-themed experience complete with gallantry and romance. Each guest (and they're all female; wonder what would happen if one were male?) is assigned an actor as a love interest for the duration of their stay. Hilarity ensues.

Jennifer Coolidge is the best thing about the movie, what with her ad libbed lines that had me roaring. The theatrical scene, too—the looks on some of the footmen's faces in the audience were priceless. And I don't mind looking at JJ Feild, either. (Though maybe not enough to watch TURN. Can we import him to Sleepy Hollow instead?)

It was easy enough to call the "twist" at the end well ahead of the reveal, but in all it was a cute movie. And it didn't make fun of Austen fans, and it didn't unnecessarily encourage delusion; instead it showed pretty cleanly there is a time and place for everything.

So go! Hang out at a Renaissance Faire, daydream about Mr. Darcy in whichever form you prefer him. But don't wait for something or someone who doesn't really exist. Therein is the lesson, neatly wrapped in Regency paper and topped with a romantic comedy bow.

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