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Jonny Lee Miller
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Austenland is a romantic comedy about 30-something, single Jane Hayes, a seemingly normal young woman with a secret: her obsession with Mr. Darcy-as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice-is ruining her love life; no real man can compare. But when she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Written by
While I was watching Austenland, I could not help but think of Westworld (1973), about a couple of friends who spend a week in an adult theme park that get to indulge every fantasy they could only dream of from the movies or TV. Austenland seems like a place tailor-made for Delos, only without robots. However, while Westworld was a clever, but grim satire about man's darker impulses in the science fiction genre with a message that was consistent from beginning to end, Austenland is an over-the-top, outrageous spoof in the genre of romantic comedy that threatened to collapse under the weight of its own silliness the whole way through.
Keri Russell plays Jane Hayes, a thirty-something single woman obsessed with all things Jane Austen, especially the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Her best friend makes a bet with her to give up her Austen obsession after Jane's trip to Austenland. Jane flies to the UK and quickly meets a kindred, if crazy spirit who was renamed Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge). Because Miss Charming is rich, she gets the luxury of choosing her own name and being part of the landed gentry and nobility of Austenland. Jane, being more working class and buying the cheapest travel package, gets stuck in the servants quarters as "poor with no fortune to speak of". She doesn't get to choose her own name and is given the surname of "Erstwhile". You can see right away where this story is going.
I kept getting frustrated with Jane's character because of her complaints about 19th century life. For a girl so seemingly obsessed with Austen, she got a rude awakening that the fantasy didn't match the reality, which I suppose is an integral part of the storyline. There was one scene where she vowed to take charge of her own destiny followed by a slow-motion clichéd fashion show/music video montage that showed her acting like a cross between a wannabe supermodel/seductress that was going to do things her way, come hell or high water. She came off as fake, irritating, and inauthentic. I didn't feel much sympathy or feeling for her; she was not the most warm or fuzzy character, nor was she as "hot" as the male characters in the movie described her to be, or had any sort of intelligence to speak of.
Jane is torn choosing between two suitors - randy and rebellious stable boy Martin (Bret McKenzie) and the stand-in resident Mr. Darcy named Henry Nobley (JJ Feild). We find out they're both actors at the theme park and you're never quite sure if there's a real rivalry between the two men for Jane's affections or if it's all just an act for the guests' amusement. Austenland does succeed in keeping your suspense regarding this aspect of the story. If it wasn't for JJ Feild's understated and even-handed performance amongst all the sheer craziness, there's no way this film would've succeeded. I also enjoyed the fun comic relief of Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour as stern and villainous Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owner of Austenland. I would've liked to have seen more of her in the film.
I give the filmmakers props for creativity as the sets and costumes were very vibrant and colorful, if ostentatious at times. I appreciate a good spoof or satire as much as the next person, but I felt the noble message about not living life in a fantasy and enjoying the reality of your own existence was lost until the very end. By then it was too late to really root for Jane. I wanted to root for her the whole way through, but I felt it was 95% spoof and 5% deeper meaning, when it should've been the other way around. The pop songs played as part of the movie's soundtrack was distracting and annoying.
I'm really being kind to give it 5 stars. It should be less, but I feel the filmmakers had the most honest intentions for this film. It wasn't what I expected it to be and it could've been so much more. I'll just stick with the original Austen books and regular film adaptations till someone comes up with a more clever and subtle Austen-themed comedy.
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