Worthy of pride, regardless of prejudice
‘Austenland’ pays pleasant tribute to classic novelist’s work
Like most students, I read a bit of Jane Austen in high school. My friends and fellow English majors have often expressed a deep and abiding love for her works, especially “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma.” Undoubtedly, Austen was a gifted writer, crafting plots and characters with tremendous insight into the gender politics and social climate of the Regency Period. But it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for “Austenland,” starring Keri Russell, that the world of Jane Austen suddenly seemed engaging and even funny.
“Austenland” tells the story of Jane Hayes (Russell), a 30-something American woman whose love for everything Austen defines her life. Unmarried and unable to find anything in reality quite capable of beating the world of her favorite novels, Jane decides to spend her entire life’s savings on a vacation to a England’s Austen-themed resort, Austenland.
Though friends shake their heads in dismay, Jane packs her favorite “I <3 Darcy” bag and flies to London. Though she winds up with the economy package — meaning she is provided simpler gowns and she sleeps in the servants’ quarters — Jane participates in a number of regency-themed pastimes.
Jane and her fellow Austen fans practice their needle-point, play piano, take strolls in the garden and flirt with the actors hired to play the men of their dreams. The audience is left to wonder whether Jane can find true love in such a superficial setting. I won’t spoil any surprises here, but I will say that Ms. Austen herself would likely be satisfied with the film’s ending.
Jane’s obsession — manifesting in an apartment complete with a life-size Mr. Darcy cutout and more teacups than one can count — is off-putting at the start of the film. But her unflagging hopes for adventure and happy endings are something that would win over any book enthusiast.
The arrival of characters like Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), Martin (Brett Mackenzie), and the dashing Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Field) add to the fun. Coolidge, in particular, shines as an enthusiastic, if ill-informed, guest at Austenland. Some of the best moments include Jane’s turn at piano playing, the guests’ night of amateur theatre, and any scene in which Coolidge attempts to speak like a proper Englishwoman. For a little bonus, I highly recommend staying behind to watch at least a few minutes of the final credits. Trust me, they are very entertaining.
Before leaving the theater, I had already decided to give Austen another try. “Pride and Prejudice,” the Austen seminal work which the film seems to echo the most, seems like a good place to start. Anyone interested in a feel-good movie experience, Austenite or not, should certainly give “Austenland” a try, too.