Explores Austen's adage that general incivility is at love's essence. Sylvia's husband dumps her for another woman, so Bernadette and Jocelyn organize a book club to distract her. They recruit Sylvia's daughter Allegra; Prudie, a young teacher whose marriage may be on the rocks; and Grigg, a sci-fi fan who joins out of attraction to Jocelyn. The six read and discuss one Austen novel per month. Jocelyn tries to interest Grigg in Sylvia; Allegra falls in love with a woman she meets skydiving; Prudie contemplates an affair with a student; Sylvia's ex keeps popping up. In the discussions, characters reveal themselves in their comments. By the end, are truths universally acknowledged? Written by
One half the world does not understand the pleasures of the other....
Let's get one thing out of the way, first. This IS largely a chick-flick, although many men who go to see it are likely to get caught up in at least one of the subplots. The litmus test is Love, Actually--if you enjoyed that movie, and are a man, I imagine you'll like this one as well. There are several attractive females, some lesbian domestic affection scenes handled with remarkable matter-of-factness, and the film (and novel) handles the male characters gently and with love.
But it is a movie that with primary appeal to two groups--chicks and Jane Austen devotees, including the male ones. Are there enough of these to make a movie a success? Yes, there are.
Jane Austen's work stays current because she wrote about timeless themes--how do you choose the best person to marry? Is love enough, or even required for lifelong contentment? How do you deal with difficult or embarrassing family members? How best to handle a family crisis? How do you learn to tell true friends and quality persons from those who are perhaps flashy and amusing, but will end up betraying your friendship and trust or, heaven forfend, tempting you to abandon your own principles? Whether you live in the age of Blackberries and Hybrid SUV's, or the age of sealing wax and barouches, every person comes smack up against many or most of these vexing problems throughout their lives.
The conceit of this movie and the book it is based upon is that a shared love and appreciation of the works of Jane Austen can provide the currency through the exchange of which modern women (and a few selected men) can confront, share, and come to better understand their personal challenges and in the process, form bonds of friendship or even romance. The strength of this movie is that even if you have a tough time with that conceit, you will still enjoy the humor of it, and the strong performances. It's pleasant to watch, like curling up with a favorite book and a frothy cup of chocolate. It is true to Janeno explosions, the villains aren't completely evil, the primary problems of the characters stem from incomplete or willfully-faulty understanding of themselves and those around them, there is no melodrama or Gothic touches except of the parody sort, and the lone death happens off screen.
I have this weird little theory about why P&P is the MOST beloved of all of Austen's books. Sure, Darcy is a smoldering hunk of tightly-controlled passion and Lizzie is as spirited and intelligent a heroine as ever nanced through a foot of mud to get to the bedside of an ailing sister, but that's not it.
In all the other Austen pairings, you had a sense that they were pairings which would truly happen in real life because deep down we know nothing has really changed from Austen's day--women's beauty and youth and social standing is factored into a certain equation which determines how handsome, wealthy, charming, accomplished, or respected a man she is able to aspire to. In no case, other than P&P, does this basic equation get violated. Lady Catherine De Bourg had it right. A shocking match, indeed! The Lizzie/Darcy romance, therefore, is the lone Cinderella story, and don't give me Edmund and Fanny, as Edmund was a younger son most in need of a virtuous wife who wouldn't ever embarrass him and was never laid out as a man of wildly attractive appearance while virtuous Fanny's looks were improved enough to attract the flirtatious Henry Crawford.
So, we women, all of us, are madly in love with P&P precisely because it is the ultimate fantasy of this amazing guy who will love us JUST FOR OUR QUICK WIT, GOOD HEART, and FINE EYES. There are no Mr. Darcy's, just like there are no characters of the sort commonly played by John Cusack, so get over it, already. There is possibly a Mr. Rochester, but remember, he had a crazy wife locked in the attic, a creepy housekeeper, an insipid ward, a bit of a sarcastic streak, and was once played on screen by a pudgy Orson Wells. In other words, a lot of baggage. And he still wasn't able to be brought up to scratch by Plain Jane Eyre until his fine big house had been burned down, his eyes put out, and his arm messed up. Now THAT is reality.
It is true in real life that single dog breeders can, and do, meet nice men and fall in love and maybe even get married. It is also true that nice, handsome, heterosexual men join book clubs*.
But this movie serves up impossibly cute Hugh Dancy in the role of an implausibly unattached, adorably geeky Grigg Harris who loves reading, older women, and can dance gracefully despite being too clumsy to artfully sip a cocktail. The statistical probability of such an attractive and unspoiled man (one who admits he is willing to be "directed") like this joining your book club and then actually wanting to develop a romantic relationship with an unattached woman older than himself is approximately the same as seeing one of the Dragonriders of Pern barnstorming over an Iowa cornfield.
In the RL JABC, Grigg would be gay and Allegra would be straight and Bernadette would be queuing up for the Early Bird Special at Cracker Barrel. And your cheating ex-spouse, Jimmy Smits, ain't never coming back, and if he did, it would be after a series of weepy drunken whiny pathetic phone calls at 3am. There will be no "letter". This movie is a little bit cruel to imply otherwise.
But that's OK. The world would be a very unkind place without at least the notion of dragons and rocketships, Darcys and Griggs. And that is why we loved it.
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