by Cat McAlpine
Wren Cosgrove is happy to go on her morning runs, talk to her cat Wentworth, and work too hard. But when her ex-boyfriend hires her marketing firm, she’s suddenly forced to face her past and contemplate whether or not she’s actually happy at all.
Based on Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, Modern Persuasion trades social balls for launch parties and romantic poets for lyrics by The Smiths. Jonathan Lisecki co-wrote and co-directed the film, with fellow writer Babara Radecki and co-director Alex Appel. Even with three different visions at work, plus Austen’s original groundwork, the film largely fails to find any footing.
Wren (Alicia Witt) is more likable and more approachable than predecessors in the workaholic trope. Unfortunately, her counterpart/ex Owen Jasper (Shane McRae) says and does little to tease any anguish out of her. What makes Austen’s novels so compelling, even after all this time, is the absolute longing they are filled with. That tension is largely missing from this adaptation.
Wren has better chemistry with her two other love interests. And at 1 hour and 20 minutes, three love interests are a lot to juggle, making Owen little more than an awkward inconvenience for most of the film.
Modern Persuasion is filled with an interesting cast of characters, but they stay flat for the length of the film. It seems late in the game to be making millennial jokes, but two of Wren’s coworkers are reduced to trendy lingo and illicit “Speak English please,” responses from their much older boss.
The film is strongest in the moments where it finds genuine connection between characters, like when Wren gives new assistant Denise (a lovable Adrienne C. Moore) help on her first day. Another shining moment is when Wren and Sam (Dominic Rains, charming) connect over a moody playlist. Witty lines, mostly from the women in the cast, keep it comedic and grounded.
For Austen and romcom fans alike, the film might be worth a curious watch. But for the rest, Modern Persuasion has nothing new to offer.