Jane (Keri Russell) is obsessed with the author Jane Austen and the world she described in her books, especially “Pride and Prejudice.” Jane has even gone so far as to decorate her bedroom with all things Austen, including a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy from the 1995 film “Pride and Prejudice.” Jane is still single, as the men she dates have no chance living up to the lofty standards her ideal “Austen” man. When she is sexually harassed by a fellow office worker, Jane decides now is the time to chase (follow) her dreams and thoroughly delve into the Austin experience, in a world she has grown to love.
Against the wishes of her friends, she uses her entire life savings to go to a Jane Austen theme experience called Austenland. She is told by the travel agent, who sells her the package that it’s a “LC,” a life changer. Leaving Jane convinced that Austenland is where she will find her own “Mr. Darcy.” She flies to England to take part in experience and meets a fellow American, Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) at the arrival zone of the airport.
Upon entering the theme park, the women are met by Mrs. Rattlesnake (Jane Seymour), who owns and runs Austenland. It’s a place where people pay to interact and explore a world inhabited by actors playing parts created in the mold of the Austen characters. Jane soon learns that the package she bought is the least expensive of the bunch, so while Elizabeth has gotten the best room fit for a queen, Jane’ room is down in a dingy hallway, with the barest of essential furniture. Jane soon discovers that what you wish for might not be as perfect as you hoped; as she finds the men playing the parts of English gentry to be boring and self-centered, especially the aloof Mr. Nobley (JJ Field). On the other hand, Jane encounters a stable boy named Martin (Bret McKenzie), and she finds herself being drawn to him because of his fun, laid back personality.
This is a nice, light romantic comedy that has a few twists and turns to the plot. Some which you just might not see coming, which makes for a nice surprise from your average “rom-com.” While the tone of the film is light, there is some substance to the plot; as Jane must come to grips with her overly high expectations for the opposite sex and the reality of what she thinks the perfect Jane Austin world would look like.
Russell is the centerpiece of the film, and while she is up to the task, appearing with her usual “cute girl” role on screen, she is let down a little bit by the script. Russell’s character at the start of the film is somewhat meek and demure. When she makes the change to a more assertive character, one which we knew would happen, it’s too quick of a sharp turn, with too little to no reason behind it.
I would have liked the script by director Jerusha Hess, co-written with Shannon Hale, to have a little more substance to it as the comedy in the film can be a little forced. This is especially true of Jennifer Coolidge’s Charming character. We have come to expect Coolidge going over the top with her roles, and in the right film, it can be funny and at times enduring. In this film, the director, Hess, lets Coolidge go full speed into the character, so much so that her character becomes very tiresome. There is a running gag with her attempting to speak with a British accent, which grows tiring very quickly, mostly because she is saying lines that are just a little too dumb and outrageous. I also thought that Jane Seymour brought almost nothing new to her role. She plays her character as she always seems to do in films such as this, a restrained proper Englishwoman. It’s a rather bland performance, but Seymour really isn’t given much to do with her part. Once again, I can fault the script as it would have been fun for Seymour to play against type, maybe making her bawdy or a “horrible” boss, which I think would have been a nice twist.
I did enjoy the two male leads, Bret McKenzie is very appealing as the stable hand, Martin. He has nice chemistry with Russell that comes across as an ease with her on the screen. I especially enjoyed the performance of JJ Field as the Mr. Darcy-like, Henry Nobley. I thought he brought a complexity to the role, showing us that maybe there was more to this man than being a pompous upper class gentleman.
The cinematography of Larry Smith does a good job showcasing the on location English countryside, bringing out the lush fauna. I also liked the score of the film by Ilan Eshkeri, which had a nice mix of music from Austen’s era, spliced with modern music; which kept us thinking that while we are experiencing what it meant to live in that time period. On a side note, the film takes place in modern times.
Jane Austin fans and fans of Russell will enjoy this film more than the ordinary filmgoer, and I bet loads of book clubs will be making a night of it. The film, while not hitting on all cylinders and taking very few chances, does make an enjoyable movie going experience, mostly due to the performance of Keri Russell and her two male leads, JJ Field and Bret McKenzie.
My Rating: Bargain Matinee
Austenland is playing in Atlanta at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema