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AUSTENLAND – Review

September 26, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Jane Austen, the famous pre-Romantic English novelist, author of the evergreen Pride and Prejudice, is a difficult subject for a film in 2013. Especially so after the explosive comeback in popularity of sci-fi, in a cinematic landscape dominated by morbid thrillers, zombies, giant robots vs. aliens, precocious teenagers, 3D concert films on One Direction… I could go on forever. My point is: if you want the so-called “general public” to take an interest in a 19th century writer who died aged 41, whose main topics were modesty and moral values, you need the greatest and most compelling idea ever.

“Austenland”’s concept appears unique and promisingly original, but unfortunately fades into a very mediocre, uninspired feature. The story: Jane (Keri Russell) is an American girl obsessed with Jane (what a combination!) Austen, and particularly with BBC’s drama “Pride and Prejudice”, starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Her obsession has turned her into a social outcast and a total nutcase, messing up her life for ever. But Jane is more than happy to live in her own world, so much that she decides to spend all her savings on a trip to Austenland, a Regency-era themed resort in England. Cut to an aircraft’s undercarriage that touches the ground, a panoramic shot of Westminster, and the Union Jack: welcome to the United Kingdom. At the resort, Jane meets Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), the inflexible owner who dictates the rules of the Austen-themed Nazi camp. No mobile phones, no activities that stray from Austenland’s 19th century atmosphere, and most of all, no excessive physical contact with the male guests (insert winks and giggles here). Joining in the costume parade, apart from a group of freaky women with perpetual hormone disorders, there’s a bunch of unbearably creepy men. Bar one exception, of course. Two, in fact, because there’s no film without conflict, and there’s no conflict without the most bland and predictable of love triangles, permanent feature of every sappy romantic comedy in the world. While Jane lives her dream, who will her choice fall on? When her fantasies crumble and everything seems lost, which of her suitors will selflessly beg for her love, in the least practical and credible way? Will it be the handsome handyman (Bret McKenzie), or the fascinating but gloomy Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild)?

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Even more unacceptable than the silly plot and pretentious sentimentalities, are the narrative devices that torture the viewer from start to end: by-the-book stolen kisses and girly rivalries come in succession, in an ordeal towards the inevitable finale. The characters are mere vehicles for irrelevant gags that fail to crack half a smile. The fat woman with big breasts (Jennifer Coolidge) is funny because she craves for a man, the blonde girl (Georgia King) is stupid and hits on the Indian macho man (Ricky Whittle), the guy with the moustache (James Callis) is gay, and Mr. Wattlesbrook (Rupert Vansittart) is an alcoholic who harasses women. How hilarious.

Joylessly directed by newcomer Jerusha Hess, and produced by the author of the Twilight Saga, “Austenland” is a lousy film that degenerates into an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. It’s difficult to understand who might actually like it: Austen’s true fans will turn up their noses in disgust, as there’s no real reference to the writer, merely an excuse to shoot a costume-drama. Those who are looking for a love story will hopefully leave the room within half an hour of running time. As for me, only one scene really made me laugh: the one where the resort’s guests act in a play. A member of the audience suddenly yells: “You’re rubbish, get off the stage you wanker”. I liked that guy.

“Austenland” is released in UK cinemas on Friday, September 27th.

Davide Prevarin