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Movies // Hot Ticket
Jaimie Kim

Austenland

Linda Middleton
Assistant Professor of English, UH Manoa

Where and with whom did you see the movie? At Kahala Consolidated Theater alone.

Overall, what did you think? Quirky, comic – but not “Austen” comic. The film’s parody of the fascination with fantasy-lands (Disney style) mimed the obsession with Austen that spawned many an Austen-based film in the 1990s. But unlike the classical Clueless (the send-up of Austen’s Emma, from the glory days of this film genre), Austenland sagged in several ways. Its comedy was garish, while its lackluster central heroine, Jane (Kerry Russell) lacked vivacity, which violated the rule Austen’s novels’ fans find unforgivable: letting the audience lose interest in the heroine’s fate.

Without giving away the ending, what was one of your favorite scenes? One in which Jane spontaneously overcomes her reluctance to “improvise” in a scene with the other Austenland guests and ends up archly flirting with the faux Mr. Dolby (J.J. Field as the “Mr. Darcy” stand-in). Her secret love interest, a faux stable-boy, Martin (Bret McKenzie), catches sight of the exchange and twinges with jealousy. The “illusions” of both Austenland‘s “Regency theme park” and the “romantic fiction” so craved by the heroine Jane converge in a nicely Austenian set-piece here.

On a scale of one to four stars, what would you rate this film? ★★1/2.

What did you think of the cinematography? Again, it was quirky. Since heroine Jane’s fantasy-deflation was one of the goals in the plot, the illusions of the natural and architectural settings of Austen novels were regularly undercut by the nouveau-riche cheapness of the Austenland Regency parlors and gardens, so the cinematography was best when garish mimicry was the point of a scene, as with the performance of a play written by Austenland‘s reigning grand dame (Jane Seymour).

Was the message/theme clear? By the final scene, yes, though it was less interesting than its setup promised.

Did it remind you of any other works of film? Mansfield Park (1999), an attempt to combine Austen’s biography with the plot of her least-read novel, and the writer herself with her least-appreciated heroine, Fanny Price. The two films both felt as if they were attempting something Austen, to her credit, never imagined someone would do with her work.

To whom would you recommend this movie? Ideally, those who’ve read more than a few Austen novels, so the jokes don’t fall flat.

Did any of the actors stand out? Jane Seymour was best. But I also liked the heroine Jane’s matter-of-fact best friend, who struck the least-confusing humorous notes in her banter during the film’s first few scenes.

Did the soundtrack contribute significantly to the film? Interestingly enough, yes: most memorably, during the credits at the end, when there’s an amusing clip of a rap/hip-hop harpsichord rendition of the tune Jane plays audaciously and briefly on the pianoforte during one of the fictive parlor scenes in the movie.

Would you buy this movie when it comes out on DVD? As a fan of Austen’s and a teacher of her works, I sometimes use media to suggest alternative ways of considering her novels. Occasionally, such productions (not Austenland, I confess) may prompt a critical reconsideration of her work (on which I wrote my dissertation and several essays). I could imagine showing clips from this film in a class as a spur for students new to Austen to think about her, or for students more familiar with Austen to imagine how she still impacts media imagination (successfully and not so successfully).

What’s your favorite movie snack? Regular popcorn with enough salt to discourage anyone from sharing it with me.

On a different note, what’s new with you? Trying to keep students engaged with literature and the humanities at UH-Manoa.

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