by George Wolf
Though I didn’t read the 2007 novel that inspired Austenland, the premise of sending Jane Austen devotees off to their own fantasy camp is one that seems full of possibilities for satire-filled fun.
Consider them missed.
Keri Russell plays Jane Hayes, an Austen freak who blows all her money to attend Austenland, longing for life in a ” simpler time” and the promise of romance with her very own “Mr. Darcy.”
One she arrives, though, Jane learns she has only purchased the “basic” Austenland experience, which means modest accommodations, poor social status and the new name “Jane Erstwhile.”
Still, she tries to make the best of it, buddying up with the obnoxious but wealthy “Miss Elizabeth Charming” (Jennifer Coolidge) and stealing kisses from the off-limits stable boy Martin (Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie). Eventually, Miss Erstwhile catches the eye of the standoffish “Mr. Nobley” (JJ Feild) and..
You can probably guess the rest, which is exactly the way the film wants it. In many respects, Austenland is a dumbed down Midnight in Paris, where the whimsical fantasy elements and sublime writing is replaced with forced humor and one joke obviousness.
The flat conventionality of it all is a bit of a surprise, coming from director/co- writer Jerusha Hess. Though this is her directing debut, she co wrote the screenplays for Nacho Libre, Gentlemen Broncos, and Napoleon Dynamite, three wonderfully offbeat comedies that were anything but crowd pleasingly safe.
There’s no sharp wit, satire or subtlety here, just sitcom humor and fluffy romance dressed up in period costumes.
For a more successful mix of romantic fiction and present day fandom, check out the 2008 mini series Lost in Austen, and leave Austenland on the shelf.