Felicity fails – ★★
Austenland is a fairly forgettable film which carries the claim to fame as “Twilight” creator Stephanie Meyers’ first non-fantasy work, having previously served as writer and producer on The Host and the latter Twilight films.
Leading the line is Keri Russell who – the delightful Waitress aside – has always been better suited to the small screen with stellar work in “Felicity”, “Running Wilde” and, most recently, “The Americans”. Russell plays Jane, a Jane Austen obsessive who journeys from her New York home to the English countryside in order to find some sort of love or meaning on an Austen–themed holiday in a big country house.
Stiffler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge) is also a guest at the mansion and provides one of the year’s most preposterously misjudged characters, intended to be comic relief but instead being completely insufferable as she tries to fit into jolly old England with cheeky, suggestive quips and pouted lips. Running the country home is an old meanie by the name of Mrs Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) who is cruel and dismissive of Jane for only signing up to the copper package, relegating her to lodgings in the staff quarters while her fellow holidaying ladies get the full pampering package.
Because this is a glorified singles weekend, there have to be a number of men on hand – hired actors brought in to provide some romantic opportunities for the ladies. These are mostly insufferable specimens who seem to think they’re in a Carry On film. The one gent with the most in common with Jane’s hero – Mr Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” – is suitably standoffish and cold towards her. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to realise that he’s the one to watch.
Star of “Flight of the Conchords”‘ and Best Song Oscar winner for “Man or Muppet” Bret McKenzie plays Martin, a love interest of sorts and a quite charming stable worker and rather bearable screen presence. You don’t begrudge him the pay cheque as he is also the subject of the film’s only funny joke about The Hobbit, a film in which he co-stars in real life. Meta.
Unfortunately the film lacks the Colin Firth cameo you see coming from the first few scenes as we focus in on the 1990s BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”, a missed opportunity if ever I saw one. Austen obsessives may well embrace the camp tribute to her work, but I’d wager that true fans of Elizabeth Bennet will be sickened and offended by how tame and boring it all is. You have to remind yourself that this is from Napoleon Dynamite co-writer Jerusha Hess, taking on her first directing role but failing to find many laughs this time round.
Austenland is almost saved by a really quite solid ending, but the fact this ending can only take place once we get away from the pantomime caricatures present in the country home only highlights the film’s major flaws.
Opening nationwide across Ireland on September 27th 2013
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