Movie review: Austenland

thSeptember 2, 2013 – There are fan groups for everyone and everything, and Jane Austen is no exception.

In the tradition of Graceland or Dollywood, Austen fans in search of Mr. Darcy or the Jane Austen experience would likely retreat to Austenland, if there were such a place.

I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel. The old English style language hurts my head too much, and I believe it’s cruel to force literature like this on anyone who is not interested, especially ninth grade boys in an English class (I have my nephew’s back on this one). However, like Shakespeare, Austen is enjoyable to watch, and watching movies about people who love Austen, such as “Austenland” and “The Jane Austen Book Club” are enjoyable, too.

“Austenland” is a story about those who not only love Jane Austen, but are obsessed with the lifestyle she writes about and the characters she’s created. The concept of a theme park aimed at lonely women comes to life in this pleasant romantic comedy.  Jane (Keri Russell), a thirty something single gal, decides to spend her savings on a life-changing Jane Austen experience in England, much to the disapproval of her friends. The vacation promises that like all Austen novels, there will be an engagement at the end for the vacationing woman, although just as fictitious as in the novel.

The plot is charming and a lot funnier than I expected, and the cast, led by Russell is exceptional. Jane Seymour is also perfect in the supporting role as the Austen expert who owns and runs the experience, and Jennifer Coolidge plays it over the top as usual, but this time it works for the story. On a side note, it is refreshing to see Russell in a lighter role than as the wife/mother/KGB agent in “The Americans”. She is terrific in the enjoyable FX television drama, but extremely intense.

Based on the novel by Shannon Hale, screenwriter/director Jerusha Hess, of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame, brought the concept to the screen perfectly because she has a knack for the offbeat, and getting lost in a dream world when you can’t accept reality.

“Austenland” opened in limited release, and I’m not sure why. I found it in one theater in Philadelphia, a local art house in the downtown area. As a clever romantic comedy, it has a wide audience potential. It’s a shame many will miss it, or have to wait for it to reach Netflix or cable before they experience it for themselves.

Rating: 3.5 – An imaginative movie that tickles the funny bone and touches your heart.

Rating system:

5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

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