Directed by: Jerusha Hess
Released on: August 23rd, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker
I must have been the only guy in college who didn’t like director Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite, whom he co-wrote with his wife, Jerusha. In my humble opinion, it was an unfunny comedy about unlikeable characters in uninteresting situations. Since then, the spouses’ other films, Nacho Libre and Gentlemen Broncos, were met with less and less acclaim. Even the television adaptation of Napoleon Dynamite was cancelled by the Fox network after one season.
So, I entered Austenland, Jerusha’s debut as director, assured that the movie was going to be bad. That ended up not being the case. Austenland, based on the novel by Shannon Hale, is a hilarious send-up of Jane Austen-genre conventions that begat the romantic comedy of modern times and features great costumes, art direction and locations to recreate the British Regency era. We now know who has the talent in that relationship. The film stars Keri Russell as Jane, a woman who has an unhealthy obsession with the novels of Austen. The man of her dreams is Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Her obsession interferes with her personal relationships, causing a bad break-up that resulted in her boyfriend punching Jane’s life-size cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy from the 1995 BBC miniseries adaptation.
Wanting to try something new, she spends her life savings on a trip to England so she can visit Austenland, a themed resort where guests can live out their Austenian fantasies. Joining her at the resort are the kooky Ms. Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and prissy Lady Amelia Heartwright (Georgia King), squeezing ever so tightly into their corsets. Jane is “courted” by both stable boy Max (Bret McKenzie) and resort actor Mr. Nobly (J.J. Field). Is it real love or just another fantasy?
The film works, not only because it’s funny, but because the characters forget they are part of this fantasy world. They are so immersed in their roles at the resort, they actually believe it’s the early 1800s. Russell and Coolidge are both incredibly funny as weirdo fangirls on a mission to find their real-life Mr. Darcys. A scene-stealing Jane Seymour is also funny as the authoritarian resort owner Mrs. Wattlesbrook, whose regime keeps things sexually repressed.
Austenland premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was produced by Stephenie Meyer, the woman responsible for throwing 125 minutes of my life in the dumpster earlier in the year with the adaptation of her novel, The Host. Austenland does not absolve her cinematic sins, but she may actually have a career as a producer if she sticks to producing decent stuff that’s not based on her own work.