SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Don Simpson | January 20, 2013
Director: Jerusha Hess
Writers: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale
Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, James Callis, Jane Seymour, Ricky Whittle
Austenland might purport to be about becoming so immersed in the world of fiction that we no longer see reality, but in fact it is about making fun of people’s fantasies. The fatefully named Jane (Keri Russell) is a diehard fan of Jane Austen’s. This is supposed to be showcased by the decor of her apartment which resembles that of a 10-year old girl with an unhealthy fetish for bric-a-brac from 18th century England; instead it feels like the production design team threw a ton of nonsensical clutter into Jane’s apartment in the guise of being Austen-esque. We are also informed that Jane’s unhealthy obsession with Austen has hindered her relationships. Her dream man, Mr. Darcy, does not actually exist, so Jane will always be disappointed in whomever she dates.
Rather than accepting reality, Jane runs off to vacation at Austenland, a hyper-dramatized recreation of Austen’s literary universe, complete with actors who are charged with the task making the female guests’ Austen-esque romantic fantasies come to fruition. Jane is joined in the Austen motherland by two other women from the former colonies — Miss Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and Lady Heartright (Georgia King) — who are embarrassing caricatures of American tourists in England and whose motives seem much less innocent than Jane’s.
The three women are expected to compete for the attention of two men, Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild) and Colonel Andrews (James Callis); yet Jane’s attention quickly turns to a man of a much lower class, Martin (Bret McKenzie). This is where things get confusing for Jane — and us — because she also develops a rocky, love-hate relationship with Mr. Nobley; and so the entire third act of Austenland is committed to keeping everyone confused about Jane’s true feelings.
There might be a great movie idea somewhere deep inside of Austenland, but it is totally smothered by so much over-baked cheesiness. Parts of Austenland are just too ridiculous for me to stomach. Ludicrousness is confused with comedy, and plot is eschewed in favor of nonsense.
When it comes down to it, I guess I just do not understand why a film about a woman who is obsessed with all things Jane Austen need to have its wackiness amped up to 11. Austenland turns into an embarrassing mockery of all things Austen, when instead it could have learned a lot from Austen’s toned down approach to romance and melodrama.