There’s no denying that the Austen bond runs very deep. Those who love Jane Austen really, really love Jane Austen. And let’s be honest, even if you haven’t pored over the pages of P&P, you’ve at least fantasized about a young Colin Firth sweeping you off your feet in all his handsome and aloof glory as the quintessential Mr. Darcy. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of brain must be in want of a good love story. And Jane Austen consistently delivers.
So I had a good chuckle when I heard the concept for the movie Austenland–a kind of “fantasy camp” for rich, bored women where they can discover their own authentic 19th century romance. The plot is clever (while being a little obvious) in the way it plays with the theme of class structure and the snobbery of the upper class that Austen herself uses as the basis for her most famous novel, but what I liked most was the idea of fantasy vs. reality. While Jane Hayes is looking for a way to escape her painfully boring life, she finds it harder than she expects to immerse herself in the fantasy, and instead ends up looking for doses of reality wherever she can get it. As she interacts with her fellow Austen fantasy-campers, it becomes more difficult to tell what is real and what is all part of the act. A very tricky and unexpected plot, which I actually really enjoyed, despite a few oh, come on moments.
Die-hard Austen fans might not be pleased with the mocking tone, but I found the comedic approach very pleasant. The story manages to go over the top just the right amount–ridiculous without quite losing the genuine quality that makes it watchable. And despite my constant annoyance with Jennifer Coolidge any time I see her on the screen, I managed not to fast-forward through the scenes of her playing the idiotic American putting on a fake British accent (is it just me or is that pretty much her role in every movie she has ever been a part of?). And as a reader I appreciated the minor tidbits thrown in for the enjoyment of those in the know–the names Elizabeth and Jane, Mr. Henry Nobly’s standoffish attitude and gradual warming up, etc. Plus, Bret from Flight of the Concords was adorable for most of the film and played the ending absolutely perfectly.
No, it wasn’t the best film I’ve seen all year, but it was a cute little movie that successfully caters to its niche audience in a way that is clever and endearing. Overall I’d say its worth a watch for Austen fans, Bridget Jones fans or Flight of the Concords fans.