KERRI RUSSELL JENNIFER COOLIDGE BRET MCKENZIE JANE SEYMOUR JJ FIELD
Re-making and re-visualizing Jane Austen so many times has certainly begun to have drawbacks, and Austenland is the latest example of that. Bridget Jones’ Diary probably modernized the Pride & Prejudice story better than anything in recent memory. However, Austenland intends on making it as pathetically obvious as possible. I will admit to my own detriment that I did laugh a few times at the completely moronic things that Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show, Legally Blond) says. Russell (Waitress) is once again cast as the frump who finds her way into empowerment.
Jane Hayes (Russell) has been obsessed with the literary works of Jane Austen for her entire life. From bedroom decorations to carrying around vintage tea cups, she even has a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in her living room. “You used to be a fan, now you’re an addict,” her best friend explains to her when she decided to throw her entire life savings away on a trip to England to attend a Jane Austen theme park. Hoping to find romance, being one with the world in which she craves, Jane sets out to this odd place that has everyone playing a role, confusing Jane’s notion of fiction and reality.
Ridiculous is the best way to describe Austenland, which is directed by the writer of other such light weight films as Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. The biggest stretch for the film is not that there would be a Jane Austen theme park, but the fact that someone like Jane Hayes would consistently allow herself to be the butt of so many jokes. We are supposed to feel somewhat sorry for this character who walks through Heathrow International Airport in full Jane Austen costume. We already know to what end this film will find itself and are forced to suffer and endure with ridiculous pratfalls along the way.
The film's highlight is Hayes’s realization that she has become a slave to an ideal that doesn’t represent anything to her. She speaks about “complete emersion” prior to the trip, and perhaps there is some satisfaction for the audience witnessing this character let go of her fantasy. I thought Oscar winner Bret McKenzie (who wrote the award winning Muppets song last year) was the most interesting part of the film. There is a cute joke about his character having to work at Austenland because he couldn’t find work back in his country of New Zealand on The Hobbit. McKenzie is actually featured in two of The Lord of the Rings films and all three of The Hobbit films.
Final Thought – As light as a feather and as dumb as a rock.
By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Austenland is a bit silly, although it does have its fun moments. If the script had made the take-off on Jane Austen more subtle and much less clownish, I think it would have been more successful. As it is, it seems more like an extended SNL skit than a movie.
The acting is very good, especially Keri Russell as Jane, but it was hard for me to switch off my image of her as a serious Russian spy in The Americans television show. This role as Jane actually seems too shallow for her. The other female roles were just too silly and grated on my nerves: Miss Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), Miss Heartwright (Georgia King), and Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour). The actresses are good, but the script and direction make their roles tiresome. The men, especially J. J. Field as Mr. Nobley and Bret McKenzie as Martin, have much better roles and give fine performances. Overall, the weaknesses in the film seem to be related to insufficiencies in script and direction by Jerusha Hess. Plus, it ends up sounding more like making fun of Jane Austen and her fans, instead of a parody of a respected writer, in which we could chuckle about the characters’ foibles reflecting that period of time. Another major flaw is the cruelty shown by the Wattlesbrook character, such as making Jane an orphan and treating her like one simply because she paid the lowest fee, and her publicizing an aspect of Jane’s personal life that was humiliating for her. These kinds of things do not belong in a work of this kind. Grade: C-