Austenland Review

The Plot:

Jane a modern day singleton obsessed with the world of Jane Austen and romantic ideals of Pride & Prejudice impulsively spends her life savings to visit an Austen themed holiday resort. Living in costume surrounded by professional actors, Jane hopes for a life changing experience living out her fantasies. But as the sparks of real life romance start to fly it soon becomes hard to tell where make believe ends and real love starts.

The Good:

Austen’s well known romantic clichés and the devoted obsession it inspires in modern day fans provide an easy target for comedy. It’s not too challenging to parody stern heartthrobs in britches and dashing sideburns or hysterical heroines in corsets and bonnets. Many will no doubt be pleased to see this silly satire take aim at the melodramatic seriousness of Mr Darcy themed fantasies.

Keri Russell does an adequate job as Austen obsessive and hapless romantic Jane.  Though it’s actually JJ Fields and Flight of the Conchords star Brett McKenzie that commendably breathe some valuable likeability into the pretend Mr Darcy and real life stable hand that might both prove the answer to Jane’s romantic dreams. This at least gives the film some intrigue in its later stages.

Those with a real life love of Colin Firth’s smouldering Mr Darcy may take some joy from seeing it lampooned, especially if they have a taste for uncomplicated farce.

The Bad:

Much like Hess’s breakout success Napoleon Dynamite, Austenland is slow moving and will irritate some just as much as it amuses others. Hess’s obvious taste in eccentric oddity and campy kitsch definitely isn’t universally shared. Ultimately it just depends whether you prefer to greet frequent displays of cringe inducing awkwardness with a whimsical smile or an infuriated sneer.

As an example Jennifer Coolidge, best known for memorable supporting turns in American Pie and Legally Blonde, yet again plays a tactless buxom loudmouth. In previous roles this may have been amusing or endearing, but listening to her mangled deliberately awful attempts at an English accent is simply excruciating. It’s a perfect indication of the kind of heavy handed laughs the film continually offers up.

Brash American’s failing atrociously to imitate British accents, wit and sophistication is the kind of lazy laughs often found in children’s films. The same could be said of much of the film’s slapstick attempts at humour. Many of Austenland’s inhabitants, including snobbish proprietor Mrs. Wattlesbrook played by Jane Seymour, seem to be borrowed from a film aimed at a much younger audience than Hess likely ever intended.

The Ugly Truth:

Austenland gradually improves but never succeeds in matching the romantic heights of real Austen. A good soundtrack and occasional flashes of comedic or romantic chemistry keep thing’s watchable but feel more like redeeming features than a real joy. Ultimately Austenland provides a little light amusement, especially if you have a particular passion for period drama.

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