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dir Jerusha Hess
scr Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale
prd Stephenie Meyer, Gina Mingacci
with Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, Georgia King, James Callis, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart, Parker Sawyers, Ruben Crow, Demetri Goritsas
release US 16.Aug.13, UK 27.Sep.13
13/UK Sony 1h37
Sense and sensibility: McKenzie and Russell
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Part of the joke in this gimmicky comedy is that it's tricky to tell fantasy from real life. But there's nothing genuine in this film either. Not only is it silly and twee, but it tries to present a "realistic" look at love that's just as corny as the romance it's making fun of. Still, hopeless romantics will probably love it.
Jane (Russell) is obsessed with Jane Austen to the point where she is still sure Mr Darcy will arrive at any moment to sweep her away. So she splurges on a holiday to England, where Mrs Wattlesbrook (Seymour) lets her customers live as if they're in a 19th century novel. At Austenland, Jane's only fellow guests are Elizabeth (Coolidge) and Amelia (King), both of whom relish flirting shamelessly with Nobley, Andrews and East (Feild, Callis and Whittle), actors playing dashing bachelors. But Jane is more interested in stable boy Martin (McKenzie).
Snappy one-liners add humour to the goofy story, which strains to layer romance within fantasy within play-acting. The best lines seem to be improvised by the effortlessly hilarious Coolidge. By contrast Russell is mopey and wide-eyed, while King plays a character who goes over-the-top in every situation. The men are a bit more interesting, simply because we occasionally see the actors drop their characters. But none of them is particularly complex.
In fact, the whole film exists on the surface, poking fun at people pretending to live in a more idealistic era while wallowing in every lace doily and frilly gown. They even put on a painfully dopey play to add yet another layer to the fiction. But none of these set-ups pays off in a good punchline, and none of the emotions emerge as anything but simplistic and childish. There isn't a single person who we think is capable of shifting lust from passion into love.
So everything on screen feels frilly and superficial. It may occasionally make us smile at the super-nerd premise and some deranged gags, including pointed debates about men and women that could be lifted straight from one of Austen's novels. But it never makes anything of this material. Everything is simplistic and undercooked, which essentially misses the point of Austen completely.
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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