Austenland Review: Q&A Time with One of the Dumbest Movies of the Year
What’s the plot of Austenland?
Keri Russell idolizes Mr. Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” above all and wants to live in the Regency era. She spends her life savings on an immersive Jane Austen experience, run by the strict Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), and meets a surly Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild) and a charming stable boy (Bret McKenzie). She kind of likes them, but why they would like her is beyond me. She’s a blank slate with a pretty face. Along for the immersive experience are two well-to-do ladies (Georgia King and Jennifer Coolidge).
Why does she love Jane Austen so much?
Because it’s romantic? Maybe? You never really find out. Also, she doesn’t even love Jane Austen, she loves Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.”
This was a Sundance movie? The prestigious independent festival?
Yes, yes it was.
Did you naively go into this movie thinking it could be totally rad?
Yes! I did! Because the idea of a live-action Austen re-enactment seemed really fun, and then also Keri Russell is genuinely lovely and I thought it’d be sort of light and fun. Instead, it was just a sordid reminder that no matter how much we might romanticize the past, people seem best suited for the age they live in.
Is this based on that terrible, stupid book, “Austenland”?
Hey! I liked that book!
Then you might like this movie.
Does this movie treat everyone who likes Jane Austen as a kind of half-brained moron who lives in a fantasy world and probably is kind of b*tch?
Yes. Yes, it does. Jane (Keri Russell) creepily eschews real relationships because no one is Colin Firth “Pride and Prejudice.” That’s some nonsense that most of us kids gave up aaaages ago. (Ain’t no one comin’ up outta no ponds for your ass, that’s for damn sure.) Jennifer Coolidge’s character is wealthy and doesn’t even really like Austen. She just like dressing up. Everyone else is there for dumb reasons, too. Rich people being dumb. Great.
What’s the worst part of this movie?
Gee, that’s really hard to pick. It might be the stilted and confusing plot line, the awkward and strained conversations held throughout, the utter and abysmal lack of humor and the high creepy factor as various men flirt and fawn over these women like male escorts at a bachelorette party. I think the worst part is that Russell’s character doesn’t even get to be the star of her own story. She’s relegated to background noise and we leave the film without knowing anything about her at all. Weak treatment of women. Weak understanding of filmmaking. Weak.
Does the plot mirror some kind of Jane Austen novel?
In the same way eating a candy bar you buy at a drug store is similar to baking an award winning cake recipe from scratch.
Well, who is to blame? I want answers!
Director Jerusha Hess. I think the fault lies squarely with her. A female director, with a handful of talented actresses and a story that could celebrate Austen and the people who love her works, should be able to put forth a fantastic film. Instead, it’s weak-willed nonsense all the way through. Shame on you, Jerusha Hess. Making terrible movies shouldn’t be a habit.
Why did the filmmakers squander an opportunity to tell an interesting story with a somewhat romantic through-line?
Beats me. Seems like they could have made something beautiful but instead settled for awkward jokes, a heavy reliance on situational humor and what inevitably felt like too many characters. Not sure how many ways I can say this movie is a dud.
But I like Jane Seymour/Keri Russell/Bret McKenzie! Should I still see it?
I can never decide. Do you want them to be in better movies? Maybe don’t go see the bad ones they do. But if you don’t see the bad ones, maybe they won’t get a chance to make better ones.
Tell me something weird about this movie.
Stephenie Meyer of “Twilight” notoriety produced it. So, judge accordingly.
Is Jennifer Coolidge the funniest thing in this movie?
Sadly yes. You know when you find yourself simultaneously disgusted by her and longing for her when she’s off screen, that you’re in a bad place.
Tell me more about Keri Russell.
She has pretty hair and acts incredibly mannered throughout the entire production. Sort of an outside observer rather than active participant. She allows herself to be swept up in nonsense. You want to like her and root for her, but she does everything in her power to ensure that you just can’t.
Does the plot of this movie surprise or delight at any point?
No. It’s kind of fun to see Regency garb and imagine your own delighted chance at such a vacation. Sometimes you’re glad to be away from the cocky nonsense of the frippery of Austenian life, seeing how the servants at this place actually live. But mostly, no, there are no surprises. If you’ve ever seen a movie then you can guess all that happens.
Are the clothes pretty?
Yes. They are very pretty. They are the only half-way decent thing in the movie.
Amanda Mae Meyncke would totally go to an immersive Jane Austen experience. And an immersive Flannery O’Connor experience. And an immersive Shirley Jackson experience.