Being a Jane Austen fanatic for decades (and I do mean decades) I read the novel Austenland when it first came out. I admit it, if there actually was an Austenland, I’d probably go. I’ve read fanfic at Austen Interlude, the Republic of Pemberly, and alas, the now defunct Hyacinth Gardens. I even wrote an ultimate Jane Austen movie guide for Hypable. I consider myself something of a cross between Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility and Fanny Price from Mansfield Park. I’ve seen every Austen movie, spin-off, loose adaptation. Yeah, I am one of those people. So to say I am picky about my Austen is an understatement.
When I read the novel version of Austenland, I was kind of meh about it. I loved the plot, but I didn’t really connect to the heroine. In the novel she was too much like the 30-something, NYC-overly career obsessed and struggling to find themselves women who I have to deal with in my day job. I have to say one of the big improvements from the novel is that Jane’s backstory is streamlined, and she is infinitely more likable and quirky than the Jane of the novel. Whereas, I was so-so about the novel, I liked the movie way better.
A good deal my liking the movie Jane has to do with Kerri Russell’s portrayal. How can anyone not just love Kerri Russell! She is vulnerable, lovable, loyal with a streak of independence. Her character of Jane also has a great way of making lemonade when she is served lemons. She doesn’t let Mrs. Wattlesbrook, played by Jane Seymour, get her down, or ruin her fun. She’s also way more obsessed with the world of Austen than her book counterpart is.
Stephenie Meyer described the movie as a com-rom. It’s a newly coined term for a comedy romance. First and foremost this movie is a comedy. There is the high-brow, witty comedy provided by the acerbic remarks from Mr. Nobley. He is a Darcyesque character played by JJ Feilds. There’s also the low-brow comedy provided by Miss Charming played by the larger than life Jennifer Coolidge. According to director/screenwriter Jerusha Hess, Coolidge was given freedom to ad lib many of her scenes. One of her best moments is pretending to read aloud from Pride and Prejudice, only what’s she say isn’t regency. It goes in an entirely rated r fashion until Jane cuts her off with a blush and a curt, “I don’t think Mr. Darcy would ever say that.”
Secondly, the movie is a romance. Jane has two equally presented choices. Book fans will be interested to note that I did not find that the movie revealed too much about either gentleman. I saw them each as Jane viewed them, the good and bad. The question the viewer is presented with is, Can Jane find happiness, a fling, and perhaps a future with Mr. Nobley or Martin, the groundskeeper. If she makes a choice, will she want more than either is willing to give? What might be the price for giving her heart? Is it real love, or just a vacation romance?
The supporting cast is just terrific. There isn’t a weak actor in the lot including the background actors who in various scene are lugging all sorts of period items from picnic supplies to luggage around and looking very weary in doing so, but then perking up when the upper classes observe them. One of the real standouts is Ricky Whittle who plays the over-the-top, swashbuckling Captain East. He doesn’t miss a chance to flirt with three ladies at once while showing off his 8-pack abs at the drop of a hat.
The movie is very faithful to the novel with only minor changes. There is a slight change in the ending that I quite enjoyed. I found the novel’s ending a bit too abrupt. Without spoiling, I felt the movie let the airport scene play out more naturally with a far more satisfying and believable resolution.
I only had minor quibbles with the film. As funny as Jennifer Coolidge is, the big, brassy, and loud thing works better in small doses. The humor was milked too much. It’s as if the director wasn’t sure we’d get the joke so it played on too long. We get it, she has a bad accent, she’s the typical “ugly American”. It was funny the first time, not the 5th scene where it goes on too long. I realize she is supposed to be over-the-top, but it was too much for me. It was like she was trying too hard for the gag that never seemed to end. Also the scene where Lady Amelia drags Jane aside and wants to be her bosom sister and then goes crazy jealous on her was funny, but again too long for the comedy to land.
Lastly, viewers should stick around for the credits for a HILARIOUS look at the actors doing a rap lip-synch in Regency dress. It’s like a bunch of Downton Abbey wannabes trying to be the little girls from the hood. You don’t want to miss it.