A movie heralded as Desperate Housewives meets Jane Austen would always arouse my curiosity, basically because I’m a sap for Jane Austen movies – done well.
(Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility are my favourites.)
Ordinarily I am not one for rom coms, except to pay them out, but the idea of mixing classic literature with a show I would describe as social porn seemed an interesting combination that I just had to see.
And surprisingly it was kinda good.
THE SET UP? Six people, five women and one man, come together to do a book club. Each has different motivations for being a part of the group, from a genuine interest in the complexities of the text, to getting over a bungled marriage, to supporting a friend who should do it, to being attracted to someone else in the group. The movie follows the club’s exploration of six Austen texts: Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (in that order…I’m pretty sure). Their monthly meetings are buoyed by examinations of each members love lives and the Austenesque similarities.
THE CAST? A real ensemble effort with:
Maria Bello as Jocelyn – a genuinely happy single woman who is mourning the loss of her dog as the film begins. Jocelyn is the Emma character. Bello is a B+ actor in my book. She deserves the roles she gets and its great to see her getting more these days, but her performance doesn’t really warrant further discussion (that sounds harsher than I intend).
Emily Blunt is Prudie – the French high school teacher who has never been to France. She’s a well-mannered but socially awkward creature who is oddly married to a jock who seems more interested in basketball and video games than her. This would be why she begins a “romantic discourse” with one of her students. I can’t remember the character name, but Prudie is the protagonist of Persuasion. Blunt is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors, she is so good in this. I can’t believe the girl is only 24 years old! She acts with great maturity, taking roles that would ordinarily be cast to older female actors – but she’s just too good and is scooping them all up!
Kathy Baker is Bernadette, the instigator of the Jane Austen book club and a serial monogamist, who proudly talks of her six failed marriages. Baker, too, is good in this. There’s a magical quality about her in this role, she seems to really be enjoying herself.
Amy Brenneman is Sylvia. Who is cajoled into joining the club by Jocelyn after her husband leaves her for a work colleague. Brenneman is okay in this film. I’m yet to decide what I exactly think of her as an actor but she played the hating-and-loving-her-husband-at-the-same-time thing really well.
Maggie Grace is Allegra. Sylvia’s lesbian daughter who joins the club to support her depressed mother. Post-modernly we get insights into Allegra’s love life too – although she is the Marianne Dashwood character (of Sense and Sensibility) and therefore foolhardy when it comes to matters of love. Grace is good, but probably the weakest link in the acting might of the ensemble – although she is kind of the minor member of the club.
Hugh Dancy is Grigg. As the only male member of the Jane Austen book club – who initially thought the books to be read were sequels, adds much needed freshness to the Austen discussions (in one hilarious scene equating Austen to Sci-Fi – for this scene alone I would recommend the film). Grigg’s alternative motives for being part of such a book club is his attraction for Jocelyn, however she doesn’t seem to be able to take the hint – pushing Grigg to be the shoulder Sylvia cries on after her marriage break up.
Dancy is a great young actor. The only other thing I’ve seen him in is Evening and he was the stand out in that too. He has a great sense of comedy, but can also pull off the serious stuff without sap and sentimentality. (This one scene when he looks deep into Jocelyn’s eyes in the library – I practically melted in my seat.)
Blunt and Dancy are the gems of the ensemble.
WHY SHOULD YOU SEE THIS FILM? Blunt and Dancy are well worth a look. The screenplay is well written for the classically saccharine genre, besides a few barely forgivable dodgy lines. The sci fi/mansfield park scene is great fun.
I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided that this one was a wait til DVD movie for you. But the experience seeing The Jane Austen Book Club in a communal context with sticky floors offers up a fun viewing environment. On Saturday for us it was sitting in front of rounded, middle aged women hungry for Austenesque romance and escapism giggling hysterically throughout the better parts of the film. It was thoroughly amusing to witness.
WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? …It should be fairly obvious…
ANY BITS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT? Some cringe worthy moments. Other than that its safe for your thirteen year old daughter or cousin – depending on how you feel about tame expressions of same sex attraction.
THIS FILM GETS 3 GOLD STARS