My mom, my dear friend Andrea, and her mom Barbara ventured out last Sunday to one of two theaters in Los Angeles currently showing Austenland, the latest adaptation of a Jane Austen fanfiction text that I reviewed about four years ago. To my delight (and their surprise), there were many men in the theater (even at least one not obviously accompanied by a woman). All four of us, one a declared fanofJane, one a normal fan (who has read several of the books), and two always willing to see a fun movie, enjoyed it (though perhaps I did most of all :-)). It is perhaps best known outside Jane circles for having Stephanie Meyer as one of its producers (Gina Mingacci is the other), but since I haven’t read the Twilight books or seen any of the movies, I wasn’t sure how to analyze her involvement’s effect on the adaptation of the book (by Sharon Hale) I once found delightful.
This adaptation, directed by Jerusha Hess, does several things well. The acting is delightful. I was thrilled to see Mr. Tilney (J.J. Feild) playing the stuffy nephew of the resort owner, and a scruffy Irishman (Bret McKenzie, who’s actually from New Zealand) plays the tempting outdoorsman who is his primary competitor. Jennifer Coolidge (you know her, or at least you would as soon as you saw her picture) is hilarious. As Barb and I agreed afterward, everything out of her mouth is funny, and it’s not just a result of great writing. Keri Russell plays a compelling heroine, a little over the top in terms of her Pride and Prejudice obsession (a cut-out Colin Firth resides in her apartment and seems to garner more attention than a live date does. She also would rather watch the BBC adaptation than make out with said date) but incredibly frustrated with what real life seems to throw her way over and over again. Any film that has Ricky Whittle shirtless so frequently offers treasures that simply don’t require good story-telling or wit, though this film has both.
It’s also unpredictable. We’re hoping, of course, that our heroine ends up with true love at the end of the movie, but which of the potential suitors it will be was so ambiguous that my mom and I actually disagreed about who it would be (yes, we whisper to each other during movies, which I’m sure is not thrilling for other people, but we try to keep it to a minimum). The quiet heroism we hope to see happens here in surprising places, and seeing the heroine’s face as she realizes what has actually been happening is a delight.
Though usually I’d be upset to see someone who loves Jane Austen come to the realization that a Jane Austen-themed bedroom in a thirty-something’s home is hardly conducive to a healthy lifestyle unless you’re Cassandra, in this particular case, maybe the heroine frees the bedroom from trappings of movie life so she can actually live not only a Jane Austen happy ending—but also her own (and, cleverly phrased in the movie—her man’s).
If nothing else makes you want to take the chance and see (or at least rent or stream) it, the total time is 97 minutes, which, in a world where movies often require over two hours of our lives only to depress us about the human condition, seems a relatively short amount of time to give to imagining what life would be like in a land of Regency manners but indoor plumbing.