Austenland (2013)

Director: Jerusha Hess
Writers: Jerusha Hess & Shannon Hale
Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Jane Seymour, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle.

I was on a date a couple of years ago and one of the previews before the movie we had gone to see was for Austenland. I remember I was so tickled by the trailer and made a mental note that I should keep an eye out for it whenever it would eventually be released. I never saw the film appear in a theater near me and I guess my mental note came unglued because I forgot about it. A few days ago I was scanning my bookshelves and when I saw my Jane Austen books I suddenly recalled the film that I had intended to watch and managed to get my hands on it and watched it.

The film narrates the story of tragic little Jane (hehe, get it?) whose obsession with all things Jane Austen has impeded her life, especially the romantic side of things. Her apartment is an obsessive shrine to the British Regency era and to the many incarnations and adaptations of the author’s works, most notably the miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice and of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. When things grow too desperate at home, Jane (Keri Russell) decides to invest her entire savings and book a stay at Austenland, a resort where the residents live as though at the beginning of the nineteenth century surrounded by a cast of actors meant to bring the Austen experience to life. Along for the ride are fellow guests Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge) and Amelia (Georgia King), both of whom bring their own version of funny to the table. The resort is run by the prickly Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) who is especially antagonistic towards Jane, who only purchased the cheapest package for her week-long stay. Rounding out the cast are the employees and actors whose job is to make the week as romantic and realistic as possible for the female costumers: Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild), who is the obvious Mr. Darcy of the group, the over-the-top and possibly homosexual Colonel Andrews (James Callis), the exotic and muscular Captain East (Ricky Whittle), and the outlier employee and grounds worker Martin (Bret McKenzie). A comedy of errors obviously ensues, as the lines between truth and reality blur to the point that Jane and the audience have no idea whose intentions are true and who is bearing false witness until the very end.

With the exception of a bizarre and uncharacteristic dark and sour moment that is at odds with the jolly tone of the rest of the movie, the film is overall delightful and cheesy in its earnestness and romance. Russell lacks maybe in a little energy, but she is so likable that it doesn’t seem to matter. Anyone familiar with Coolidge, especially her work with director Christopher Guest (Best in Show), knows that she is a reliable source of hilarity and can land even the weirdest line with absolute perfection. Callis (Battlestar Galactica) is over the topic and manic, but it didn’t bother me. McKenzie, Whittle, and Feild are all quite nice to look at and are the type of eye candy and appeal that the film needs, even though they are not given much to do other than either brood, flex, or scowl.

I read a critic’s review, who didn’t seem to much care for this film, describing it as a cream puff: light and airy, but not satisfying. But you know what? Not everything has to be a heavy and meaty entree, sometimes people are in the mood for dessert. And you could do much worse than a cream puff: it’s visually pleasing, delicious, and a delightful little bite. You won’t regret a well made cream puff at night before bed. Sure, it’s empty calories, but sometimes it’s nice to cheat just a little.

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