Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB is an enjoyable "chick flick" about five women and one (cute) guy who gather together each month to discuss Austen's novels.

All of the women have relationship issues which parallel various Austen characters. Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) was just dumped by her husband of two decades (Jimmy Smits). Sylvia's daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) is a lesbian who makes reckless choices, whether it's her love life or jumping out of airplanes. French teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt) has a distant, sports-obsessed husband (Marc Blucas), a crazy hippie mother (Lynn Redgrave), and an inappropriate crush on a student (Kevin Zegers). Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has been married six times and is still looking for Mr. Right. Dog breeder Jocelyn (Maria Bello) seems to be the most "together" of the women, but she holds men at arm's length and, like Austen's Emma, focuses more on fixing up her friends than fixing her own life.

The male in the group is Grigg (Hugh Dancy) a geeky but nice, thoughtful man Jocelyn impulsively invites to join the club, thinking she can set him up with Sylvia. So why does Jocelyn feel unsettled when Grigg and Sylvia go out to lunch?

As the months pass, Austen's characters are discussed and debated by the club members, providing insight into the characters' own lives and choices. By film's end, everyone's relationships are wrapped up neatly, if a bit improbably. But then, happy endings are one reason we love Jane Austen, right?

The performances are all good; I thought Amy Brenneman and Maria Bello gave particularly realistic portrayals. It's a bit disconcerting hearing American "accents" coming out of the mouths of Emily Blunt and Hugh Dancy; every so often Dancy's British accent slips through. Dancy is charming, and watching his character develop beyond the surface first impressions is one of the film's most enjoyable aspects. (And his STAR WARS analogy provided one of the film's most amusing moments.) I also particularly liked seeing how the group evolved from awkwardness -- as several of the characters didn't know each other -- to comfortable friendship.

Parental advisory: This movie is rated PG-13; given some of the topics, I think R might be more appropriate. My biggest problem with the film is the frank depiction of Allegra and her serial romantic relationships with other women, an "ugh" factor which had me hitting the fast-forward button. Prudie's yearning for her student was also problematic; he might have been of legal age, but this is the kind of thing we too often see in the news in recent years.

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB was directed by Robin Swicord, who wrote the screenplay for the 1994 version of LITTLE WOMEN. It runs 106 minutes.

Although the film is set in Northern California, it was shot at many Southern California locations, including Lakewood High School, Long Beach Airport, and Acres of Books, also located in Long Beach.

The movie is available on DVD. Extras include a commentary track and featurettes.

The bottom line on THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB is that it's flawed but entertaining; accepted on its own terms, it provides a pleasant diversion, particularly for those of us who love Jane Austen.


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