Sundance Film Review: Austenland

Posted January 21, 2013 in
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Photo Credit: Giles Keyte

Sundance Film Festival
Director: Jerusha Hess

Directed by BYU grad, SLC local and the co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite, Austenland is big. The jokes are over-the-top, the costumes and set are gaudy, Jennifer Coolidge is practically bursting at the seams in both hilarity and bosom, and the flops, well, they're pretty big, too. Austenland is the story of Jane (Keri Russel), a 30-something mop of a woman obsessed with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. After getting harassed by a scummy ex-boyfriend at her office job, she decides to spend all of her savings on a trip to Austenland in the U.K.––a theme-park of sorts for adults, where it's promised she'll get an authentic Regency-era experience with romance guaranteed. Joined by a horny and excitable Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge), Jane arrives to Austenland only to be treated as a "poor orphan" by the program's organizer, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), due to the fact she's paid for the copper experience, whereas the other wealthy guests have splurged for platinum. Still, Jane manages to have a good time, finding love with the theme park's "stable boy" and groundskeeper, Martin (Bret McKenzie), while playing into a flirtatious Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy back-and-forth with the broody but charming resident actor, Mr. Henry Nobely (JJ Field). Sounds like the formula to a great rom-com, and there are moments, mostly saved by Coolidge's raunchy jokes, when it's laugh-out-loud funny, but many of the over-the-top jokes fall flat, and when something that big flops, it echoes, and you can't help but wince. There's also a lack of sincerity, which you'd think would help perpetuate the characters' struggle with reality vs. fiction, but instead it reeks of mediocre acting and cliched writing, leaving you dissatisfied with the happy ending. Maybe fake is what Austenland is going for, but it's not working in the hands of Hess. If this was a Christopher Guest film, a few deadpan tweaks would have made this the comedy of the year, with Coolidge as the deserving star.

Oh, and one more thing. Stephenie Meyer is one of the producers on this, so I'm not surprised, but if you have a single feminist bone in your body, prepare to be deeply offended by one particular moment, if not the entire film. Austenland takes the audience back to a Regency-era facade, and drags backwards the last 140 years of women's emancipation along with it. Sexual assault is NOT OK, and as a big Austen fan myself, I can confidently say that if Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennett were alive today and a Mr. Wattlesbrook would've tried to rape her, and she found out she wasn't the first, she wouldn't go quietly to her room after Mr. Nobley comes to her rescue, nor would she give up on pressing charges against Austenland … Shame on you, Jerusha Hess, for playing into such a weak female stereotype.



Time: 1.21, 6:30 PM Venue: Peery's Egyptian Theater, Ogden

Time: 1.22, 8:30 PM Venue: The MARC, Park City

Time: 1.24, 12:00 PM Venue: Egyptian Theatre, Park City

Time: 1.26, 3:30 PM Venue: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, SLC

Photo Credit: Giles Keyte Photo Credit: Giles Keyte Photo Credit: Giles Keyte Photo Credit: Giles Keyte