Reverently spoofing great Jane
The erudite stuffiness ingrained in the work of the famous novelist Jane Austen seems so primed for parody that it’s surprising that the inspired premise of “Austenland” hasn’t been attempted before.
Based on the novel of the same name by Shannon Hale (and produced by Stephanie Meyer), the story imagines a theme park dedicated to Regency romance fanatics who can live out their petticoated fantasies of 19th century life.
The film effectively and hilariously walks a fine line between being broadly comedic without offending it’s (albeit limited) target audience, while rewarding dedicated ‘Janeites’ with both chuckles and charms aplenty.
A perfectly cast Keri Russell is Jane (naturally), a 30-something Austen devotee to the max. Her modest apartment is practically a shrine, right down to the full sized cut-out of actor Colin Firth. Tired of the garish men in her life, Jane scrapes together her life savings and buys a dream vacation to “Austenland.” She quickly learns she was sold only a basic package, but she still gets to enjoy certain amenities like staying in a massive, authentically decorated estate (Wycombe manor of “Downton Abbey” fame), handsome servants dressed in perfect period costume, elaborately staged meals and sprightly lawn croquet matches.
Fellow park guests include a loveably loutish Lizzie (scene stealing Jennifer Coolidge), and Lady Amelia (a perfectly over-the-top Georgina King), who have their own romantic ideals. Jane’s hopes appear dashed by the “Darcy” of the men—an apparently boorish Mr. Nobley (JJ Felid), one of the many actors paid to accommodate the female guests. (One rule: “No touching allowed.”)
But all may fair well when Jane meets hired stable boy Martin (Brett McKenzie), whose overtures seem like a genuine palliative amid the lavish fakery.
You have to admire the ambition of director and co-screenwriter Jerusha Hale, who, as she demonstrated with “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre,” understands the importance of details and nuance when painting with a broad comedic brush that can seem silly and positively brilliant in the same scene. And the cast is totally up for the challenge – deliriously throwing itself into the camp so even the few sour notes still produce smiles.
One of the more creative and crass-free comedies of the year, not everyone will appreciate the goofy tone on display, but for faithful fans who can appreciate a little Monty Python in their Fanny Price, “Austenland” is the Holy Grail of period piece rom-coms.
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and innuendo.