Austenland

austenland

  • Austenland is funny and thematically compelling, which is enough to overcome an unsatisfying final act.
  • Writer/Director Jerusha Hess’ debut feature is often laugh out loud funny, most notably because so much of her dialogue is clever. The line “I am single, because the only good men are fictional,” is only one example.
  • Austenland’s humor is enough to maintain interest, no matter how familiar we are with on-screen events.
  • And the film includes many rom-com tropes: a rain storm; a dance; a sudden realization of mistakes; and so forth. None of it ruins the movie, per se, but it does limit its uniqueness.
  • The performances help alleviate familiar plotting, though. James Callin shines as Colonel Andrews, as does Keri Russell as Jane Hayes, the film’s protagonist.
  • They are not the only skilled actors here. Every performance strikes the proper notes, balancing frivolity with seriousness.
  • Hess, the director, does the same, especially in the way she addresses theme. Austenland asks poignant questions about the nature of fantasy and reality, about becoming obsessed with  entertainment and losing touch with the things that matter most.
  • Which is why the movie’s sense of exaggeration proves successful. From a vibrant color palette, to slapstick comedy, to Jennifer Coolidge’s (Elizabeth Charming) performance, Austenland effectively hyperbolizes reality.
  • Even more impressively, Hess accentuates her theme by not cementing which of Jane’s relationships, if either, is performance, and which is genuine. Is Henry Nobley (JJ Field) an actor paid to impress her? Is Martin (Bret McKenzie)? Are they both?
  • Such ambiguity is not without consequence, however. While it works thematically, it works less well for Hess’ characters, if only because it means the viewer never quite understands them. Why is Martin attracted to Jane, if he is? Ditto that for Nobley?
  • Therein is the reason Austenland’s final act proves problematic. Hess carefully calibrates confusion between fantasy and reality, so much so that characters are too obfuscated. We do not know them, so we do not accept when one of them professes love. And we accept it even less when he demonstrates depth of feeling through extreme effort.
  • I wish Austenland had had the courage to buck romantic-comedy convention, to end without romance.
  • Yet, this is a quality comedy, one that is equal parts funny and thematically interesting. It isn’t perfect, but it is good.
  • Final Grade: B-
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18 thoughts on “Austenland

  1. I was expecting to hate the guts out of this thing, but I ended up getting charmed a bit. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge sucker for Keri Russell and her unabashed cuteness. Good review.

    • I didn’t know what to expect. I thought the conceit quite stupid, but I also like Hess’ past screenplays and I too have always enjoyed Russell.

      Overall, I think they managed a good film.

  2. Shame about the third act but having heard nothing about this film until very recently it seems to be turning a few heads. I must check it out.

  3. Interesting, I was with Dan up top. . .my expectations of this film were complete crap. Which is why I still have yet to see it, because it looks really dumb. But it sounds like there are a few things that could work for me as well, even though I don’t really like Jennifer Coolidge (I’m sure she doesn’t factor into this too, too much). Nice work man.

    • Coolidge is not insignificant, but he isn’t a main character either. I don’t usually like her, but here she didn’t bother me … She helped fuel the movie’s themes, so she fit.

      And the is definitely worth watching.

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