Tuesday, September 17, 2013
* out of ****
It’s one of those months of the year when going to the movies leaves me wondering why I didn’t just stay home. Such was the case with Jerusha Hess’ (Co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite) directorial debut. Austenland is a bizarre romantic comedy about a Jane Austen-themed fantasy vacation resort. This movie happened to get its Louisville release the very same week that I completed viewing the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice with my girlfriend. I planted the seed by showing her the Joe Wright movie version starring Keira Knightley. Since then, she’s become an Austenite. With such strong doses of Austen exposure, I took a chance on a silly romantic comedy about the subject. I imagined a crowd-pleaser about escapism gone wrong with the slight possibility of a clever subtext that eccentric fans could enjoy. Fifteen minutes into the movie I had to resist my inclination to walk out of the theater, a cardinal sin for anyone intending to write a review. I saw the film through and found Austenland to be unfunny, brainless and simply awful.
I feel sorry for Keri Russell, whose charming screen presence as a fan named Jane, has no power against all the inept direction that this comedy has. In spite of her character’s obsession with Mr. Darcy, she seems too level-headed for me to believe she would throw away her life savings on such a desperate adventure. Upon her arrival, the intentions of the comedy become confusing. It seems as though the story is designed for the protagonist to feel intimidated by her fantasy coming to life, while at the same time the jokes seem to focus on the tasteless failures for the resort to live up to such a dream. Those two comic directions collide.
Hess has no sense of pace or comic craft, except to make everything happening onscreen over-the-top in one way or another. Her use of the horny super-rich ditz of a woman, played by Jennifer Coolidge, whose very being there is one of many factors which would destroy anyone’s illusion of inhabiting the Georgian Era, is misplaced under the impression that it’s a funny performance.
Other wasted talents in this film are Bret McKenzie as a romantic groundskeeper, J.J. Feild as the resident Mr. Darcy-type guy and Jane Seymour as the resort’s owner.
I can’t imagine that the book on which this film is based, is anything like the mess that I saw on screen. This movie stinks! But you don't have to take my word for it. Check out the A.V. Club's review!