Directed by Jerusha Hess
Falling in love and riding on horseback into the sunset with a dreamy guy is often the focus of popular romantic comedies. But what if this dreamy guy was fictional? “Austenland,” a new film by director Jerusha Hess and producer Stephenie Meyer, author of “Twilight,” puts a modern spin on the whimsical world of romance that author Jane Austen created in her classic novels.
Jane Hayes, played by Keri Russell, is the Austen and Mr. Darcy–obsessed, modern-day heroine of this Austen-inspired tale. Jane takes a vacation to Austenland, a romance novel–inspired fantasy world, where she strives to find some reality while living among actors embodying Austen characters. Driven by a desire to find her dream guy, Jane, the ordinary girl, has her heart torn.
On her trip, Jane meets another Austenland guest, a boisterous American woman, Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), and various actors hired to play Austen-era characters. This includes Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild), the so-called Mr. Darcy of the group, and a handsome stable boy, Martin (Bret McKenzie).
Russell’s portrayal of Jane lacks the fiery spark that most Austen women possess, and for most of the film the character lacks intention. The script allows for little to no character development early on and instead thrusts the audience into the story with sparse explanation for Jane’s motivations for going to Austenland. Instead of creating a personality to spice up the character, Russell acts without emotion or commitment, making it difficult for the audience to relate to, much less understand, the character’s behavior.
The most unfortunate part of this film is the dialogue. At certain points, the exchange between characters seems so cheesy that it becomes unbelievable and cheapens the film’s quality. Elizabeth’s dialogue in particular is over-the-top to the point of annoyance. Coolidge does a decent job of honing her usual vivacious, goofy, heart-of-gold persona, yet her absurd lines and attempts at a British accent are possibly the most cringe-worthy elements of the film.
Though overall ludicrous, the film enjoyably presents Jane’s struggle to separate reality from fantasy with its game-like plot twists. It’s also riddled with heart-pounding, Austen-like romance and hilarious situations. Jane’s taboo relationship with Martin and her flirtation with Nobley adds a steamy intrigue over which Austen herself would drool.
Visually, the film is stunning. The manor the Austenland guests stay in looks as if it’s straight from an Austen book, complete with ornately decorated rooms and expansive grounds. The contrast between the modern and old-fashioned elements of the mansion — like indoor plumbing and chamber pots — adds a quirky element to the atmosphere.
“Austenland” is a short and silly rom-com that’s good for a few laughs and a bit of eye candy, but the poor acting and dialogue ultimately make this film unremarkable.