The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Austenland | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Austenland

An American Jane Austen fanatic takes a trip to a British theme park based around the author.

Directed by: Jerusha Hess
Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Jane Seymour

Socially awkward thirty-something Jane (Russell) struggles to find her place in the modern world. Obsessed with the writings of Jane Austen, she spends her life savings on a trip to 'Austenland', a theme park in England based on the work of the author. When she arrives, she finds the park populated by actors playing roles like Henry Nobley (Feild), a Mr Darcy substitute and Martin (McKenzie), a stable hand who romances Jane. Joining Jane is loudmouth American Elizabeth (Coolidge), who seems more interested in landing a man than immersing herself in the world of Jane Austen.
Ever since a soaking wet Colin Firth appeared as Mr Darcy in a nineties BBC production of Jane Austen's 'Pride & Prejudice', women around the world have developed a questionable interest in the author. For many female readers, Austen's work serves as a form of pornography, so there's clearly comedy to be mined from this subject. Unfortunately, this adaptation of a 2007 novel wastes its intriguing premise. The Austen name seems to have been used solely to provide a snappy, identifiable title, as there is no attempt made to work the stories of Austen into the plot. The Austenland theme park could just about be any cookie-cutter old world experience, rather than one focused around a specific writer.
The film tiptoes around the premise that, like this year's 'Paradise: Love', this is essentially a movie about sex tourism. Jane's obsession with Austen is based more on her longing for a romance with a Colin Firth substitute than any love of classic English literature. If the film had been honest about this I suspect it would be a whole lot more interesting than the blandness we get here. Imagine Todd Solondz' take on this subject, for example.
For such a bland and saccharine movie, 'Austenland' has a seriously creepy vibe and a high level of misogyny. Women are treated with contempt here, roundly portrayed as idiots who can't function without their own Mr Darcy. Particularly shocking is the film's treatment of an attempted sexual assault. A twist at the end has us considering whether or not the entire preceding storyline has been little more than an extended date rape. If Austen were alive I suspect she'd balk at such a portrayal of her gender.

Eric Hillis