So I Watched Austenland

austenlandI enjoy Jane Austen as much as the next woman and the 1995 version of “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth is of course THE ultimate take on that novel, so I was mildly curious to see this 2013 movie, starring Keri Russell, when it came out on dvd last week. (I only make it to the actual theaters for the big spectacles these days, like “Pacific Rim”. Or Disney movies with my grandson.)

Here’s the plot synopsis from the Internet Movie DataBase: “Obsessed with Pride and Prejudice (1995), a woman travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search for her perfect gentleman.”

The movie is based on  Austenland: A Novel by Shannon Hale, published in 2007. I’ve now put that on my kindle TBR list as I was mildly intrigued enough to want to read the source material.

If I was going to travel to the Regency time frame in any manner, I’d go for the dashing world of Almack’s and waltzing Dukes, myself…but I wouldn’t want to stay there too long. I’m pretty much used to the modern conveniences.

But back to the movie…I felt as if it was confused about itself and therefore was left confused. Was it a comedy? Was it trying to be a serious romance? Was it a spoof? Was it an hommage? Because at various moments, it went in all those directions. I also felt as if not all of the actors were in on the sekrit joke, whatever that might be. As if they missed some pages of the script concerning plot developments.

Frankly, I kept thinking about the movie Westworld, and we all know how that immersion experience turned out!

Our heroine Anna suffers from arrested emotional development and an obsession with all things Austen. I can’t imagine any modern suitor spending more than one minute in her chintz-and-ruffles-and-Darcy bedroom. As far as I could tell, she spends all her savings to go to Austenland hoping to cure herself of the whole Austen/Darcy thing and move on with life. I applauded this plan – the moving on with her life part anyway. But then once she gets to her dream destination, she goes back and forth between wanting the experience to be real, disgusted it’s all  fake, trying to out-act the paid actors, wanting to fall in love with them…and the fact that she bought a lowly “Copper Package,” which entitles her to the most ugly dress I’ve ever seen and a room in the servants’ quarters, doesn’t help. She’s known as Jane Erstwhile in Austenland by the way. All the guests who paid for more expensive packages get to be Lady This and That.

I wanted to shake her in the scenes where she seems to either (a) think she’s really in an Austen novel or (b) wants to be so badly, she sporadically tries to be an Austen character. I believe I may have uttered the dreaded “TSTL” phrase at least once. (Too Stupid To Live.) Austenland just never came across to me as a slick enough theme park to let you forget you’d paid good money to be there and wear a corset. Oh, and were talking to actors who weren’t going to really fall in love with you, any more than they fell in love with the pretend-damsels who paid their money and lived in Austenland the week before. You have fun at Disneyland but you don’t expect to go home with Indiana Jones. You know you’re a tourist.

What did I like?

I loved Jane Seymour, I always love Jane Seymour and have since the original Battlestar Galactica. She was terrific as the owner of Austenland. (The  1982 version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” that she’s  in with  Anthony Andrews is my favorite take on that novel…)

The house, manicured grounds and sets used for filming were gorgeous, British eye candy of the finest sort.

My favorite scene was when the guests and actors-being-paid-to-be-Austen-like-heroes put on an ‘amateur theatrical’, because you read that trope so often in romance novels set in the time period at big house parties. This was so bad on purpose, it was great. 

The scenes in the area where the actors hung out by a pool after work were sort of amusing but could have been funnier, I thought. On the fence about those. Good idea but not executed smoothly….I wanted to feel sorry for these guys, reduced to working at Austenland in between BBC costume dramas and/or soap operas but…the movie didn’t want to quite let you feel these were real 2012 guys, you know? It was like even in their off time they were 3/4 Austen and  1/4 modern guys and it did…not…work. Not for me.

Another plot point that didn’t work for me: The rich, crude, clueless American woman who befriends Anna/Jane belonged in a different movie. I liked her but she was so out there, she ruined any illusion of this movie’s plot making any sense.

There was one big plot twist that I didn’t see coming at ALL and won’t ruin for you here but somehow the way the movie arrived at the necessary Happily Ever After ending following the twist was sort of….meh. I didn’t find myself caring a whole lot and I was still confused by who was acting when at what point wherever whilst at Austenland.

It won’t be on my Favorites shelf, although I’m going to watch it again one more time now that I know the twist and see if that helps me with some of the scenes I found to be so meh. If this was a book, I’d give it 2.5 to 3 stars. I mildly enjoyed watching it once, I didn’t see the plot twist coming (always kind of fun to be surprised) and it did deliver an HEA.

jane seymour

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