Austenland review: bomb and bombasticity

part of my Directed by Women series
MaryAnn’s quick take: Austenland, allow me to tell you how ardently I loathe and despise you.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): the trailer looked dire
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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Jane Austen would be appalled. Certainly Darcy would have a glare of withering disdain for all involved. And I don’t get how Austen fans — both within the narrative and watching from the outside — are supposed to find this enlightening or amusing.

American Jane (Keri Russell: Extraordinary Measures) is so obsessed with Austen’s novels that she plunks down her entire life savings to travel to Austenland in England, which is meant to be an immersive Regency-era experience — sort of like those murder-mystery weekend things — and then makes no attempt whatsoever to engage with the scenario.

This appears not to be because the place is like an Epcot Austen full of bad actors there to “woo” the guests (who are exclusively female) by apparently vying to be mistaken for all the horrible men in Austen’s books. And it’s not because the horrid woman who runs the place (Jane Seymour: Wedding Crashers) is an abusive witch who expels guests for using era-inappropriate cell phones but has them hot-glue-gunning feathers to hats, for some reason, and also allows the actors to behave in weirdly anachronistic ways.

It’s because Jane literally cannot distinguish between the fantasy they’re all engaging in, however awkwardly and unconvincingly, and the reality of the bad acting and theme-park setting: she gets actually, properly angry with the Darcy actor (JJ Feild: Captain America: The First Avenger) for his perfectly appropriate Darcy-esque putdowns. Maybe that’s meant to be part of the comedy; maybe that’s meant to be part of the romance — no one seems to know.

Certainly not screenwriters Jerusha Hess (who also directs) and Shannon Hale (working from her novel). Nothing works here: not the attempted satire on all-consuming fandom, which is cheap and lazy, and certainly not the romance shoehorned in around it, which is horrendously implausible. Hess and Hale don’t seem to like their characters much, if the cruelty and stupidity that has been concocted for them is any measure, and so they are impossible for us to like. (“Are you breaking up with me?” is not something a grown woman says to a man she met the day before, no matter what they’ve done in the interim.)

It’s all hugely insulting to women. And to men. And to Austen, and to people who love to read, and to fandom, and to fantasy. Austenland, allow me to tell you how ardently I loathe and despise you.

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Sun, Sep 29, 2013 6:07pm

But apart from that, Ms Johansen…?

It’s odd that this should be a book adaptation. This level of inconsistency smells of a script that’s been hacked about from one genre to another, with bits of the original poking through the hastily-patched skin.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Wed, Oct 02, 2013 10:50am

I suspect the book isn’t very good…

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Oct 05, 2013 7:31am

I’ve read it. It’s not.

Emily ann
Emily ann
Sun, Oct 06, 2013 10:43pm

the film was completely horrible and the book is light material.
I think that women are entertained by this film and book perhaps because we enjoy seeing light comedy set in the 1800’s, in lush green England – – as there are so few films out that aren’t horror or torture films esp. against women. Life is tought and draining and light films are the Yin to all that Yang!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Emily ann
Mon, Feb 03, 2014 1:47pm

Er, you realize this isn’t set in the 1800s, don’t you?

Tonio Kruger
reply to  Emily ann
Wed, Aug 06, 2014 1:42am

Personally, I got more enjoyment from The Jane Austen Book Club movie and the Lost in Austen mini-series. Both are available on DVD if you all care to check them out.

Of course, YMMV.

Tue, Feb 04, 2014 11:27am

For those in London, can I recommend Austentatious, a comedy improv group specialising in dramatic reconstructions of as-yet-unseen Jane Austen works. With a live cello accompaniment. Highly regarded.

Tonio Kruger
Wed, Aug 06, 2014 1:39am

Ay, dios! This was a bad movie. It was all I could do to keep my finger off the fast-forward button on my DVD player’s remote control.

I’m so glad that Ms. Russell is having success with her cable series The Americans so she doesn’t have to keep making movies like this to earn a living.