Tuesday, July 1, 2014

AUSTENLAND, Austentatiously Awesome Austenland: My take on the movie starring Keri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge


LOVED the book. BUT the film starring Keri Russell didn't engender reviews glowing enough to get me into the theater during its theatrical run last year. I finally saw Austenland this week when my oldest friend said she had the blu-ray in her hot little hands and would I like to come up to Topanga for lunch and a movie. She'd seen it and promised mirth.



The hourlong drive from Hollywood to my friend's takes me over curvy, crumbling Laurel Canyon to Studio City, west on the always clogged 101 past Valley Village, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Reseda, Tarzana, all the way out to Woodland Hills, and up Topanga to the their home in the canyon. It's a schlep. (The one thing I don't like about living in the city is how far I am from my childhood bestie.) As much as I liked the book, from what I'd heard, I couldn't imagine Austenland the movie being worth the trip.

Here's how the film is summed up on imdb.com: 
Obsessed with Pride and Prejudice (1995), a woman travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search for her perfect gentleman.
The book was great fun (my take here) but I could see from the trailer that director Jerusha Hess had taken the conceit - that of Austenland being a fully immersive experience for Austen addicts - and pumped up the volume. Over the top. YES! Hilariously so.



Keri Russell is fine as the woman desperately searching for her Mr. Darcy; she's the right age and evoked an air of hopefulness despite carrying her emotional baggage full of dashed dreams and disappointments with her. Both actors charged with charming her Jane character - JJ Field as the Darcy-like Mr. Nobley and Brett McKenzie as Martin, a groundskeeper - are attractive and appealing. 



But it's scene-stealing Jennifer Coolidge (known for Legally Blonde and the American Pie movie) as Miss Elizabeth Charming who sells the whole package. She enters the room, big, blond, mouthy and while never having read a page of Jane Austen (Who's that?) is ready to rumble. 



As far as Ms Charming is concerned, Austenland is a great big party and she, the purchaser of a platinum package - is the guest of honor. And she'll be damned if she doesn't have a bloody good time. She plays it to the hilt, putting on a dreadfully bad British accent, trying to teach Jane just how to say 'blasted'. 



As ridiculously big and broad as she plays it, Coolidge's skill is that while we think we're laughing at her, she imbues her character with such genuine artlessness that we can't help but laugh with her as she reveals her big, generous heart. 

Meanwhile poor Jane (Miss Erstwhile) is given dowdy dresses to wear and because she bought the cheap copper package is left out of some of the official fun. That turns out not to be a bad thing as it allows her time to get to know Martin, the sexy, irreverent groundskeeper better. She finds she prefers his company to that of the actors she knows are paid to be attentive. And there's the rub; which one of these two men- the 'actor' playing the Darcy-esque Mr. Nobley - or the seemingly down-to-earth gardener Martin, who will win her heart. 

I thought the movie was going to be bloody awful but it was the complete opposite; I think I started laughing as soon as I saw Jane's fussy room and her life-sized cut out of Collin Firth as Mr. Darcy and it just built from there. 

Austenland stars Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour - so funny as the snarky snooty Mrs. Wattlebrook, Brett McKenzie, JJ Field, and Georgia King, the third of the trio of ladies being seduced. The movie is available on blu-ray and on Amazon to stream instantly. I can't imagine any fan of Jane Austen or Shannon Hale's Austenland not having an enormously good time watching this movie. As you know I don't do a rating system, but if I did, I'd give Austenland 5 out 5 Mr. Darcy's - high praise indeed.

Here's the trailer



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