Austenland review: bomb and bombasticity

Austenland red light Keri Russell

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)

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 [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]). 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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