As theme parks go, Austenland is the rarified kind its exclusively for women in love with Jane Austens novels, who want to spend a week or so living the Regency lifestyle while falling for a dashing actor playing a Mr. Darcy type.
As films go, Austenland has a cute-enough premise, but soon founders on the shoals of a weak screenplay, overwrought performances and somnolent direction. Youre better off reading Pride and Prejudice, then seeing one of the several movie and TV versions.
Director Jerusha Hess movie, based on a novel by Shannon Hale, stars Keri Russell as Jane Hayes, an emotionally stunted 30-something whose digs are a monument to Austen and all things Darcy. She carries an I heart Darcy bag, has Darcy Was Here displayed in large letters over her bed, and well, you get the idea. So when she finds out about a fantasy vacation to Austenland, a theme park version of early 19th-century England, Jane jumps at the chance to live out her obsession.
Quicker than you can say tight bodice, Jane bonds with Elizabeth Charming, another Austenland guest (Jennifer Coolidge, loud and insufferable), and attracts the attention of Martin (Bret McKenzie), a workman, and Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild), the actor equivalent of Mr. Darcy.
Jane thinks all this is super the fancy dinners, the shooting parties, the attentions of two lusty men and the dress ball that ends the vacation. Plus, there are all sorts of colorful characters, like the archly funny Colonel Andrews (Battlestar Galacticas James Callis) and gorgeous Captain George East, who is always looking for an opportunity to rip off his shirt and show his washboard abs.
This is all meant to be funny in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge sort of way, but trust me hilarity does not ensue. Hess direction is plodding and undistinguished, and she has encouraged some of the actors Coolidge and Callis being the worst offenders to perform in a shrill style that is incredibly annoying. Field is fine as the Darcy stand-in, and Russell is an engaging lead, but the best part of the film is the first 10 minutes or so, when the main characters Austen-mania is lovingly and cleverly detailed (a huge cardboard standup of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice actually has one of the movies funniest moments).
Austenland tries hard. It really does. But its like watching a mediocre parody of a Jane Austen novel, without the emotional depth or social significance. Maybe its a female thing, this whole Mr.-Darcy-As-Perfect-Romantic-Humanoid. Maybe its not meant for guys to understand. Then again, maybe if Austenland were a better movie, it would be a perfect homage to a great writers sense, and yes, sensibility.
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