Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Austenland Movie Review (from someone who has read the book)

First off, you must understand that I have read the Austenland novel more than once, and it has taken its place amongst one of my favorite novels.  It's not a masterpiece of literature by any long shot, but I appreciated the depth of character in what most would consider a chick flick.  On top of that, it is a fun read.

The Austenland movie came out awhile ago with a limited showing, so I wasn't able to see it until recently.  I write this review with the premise that I am judging the book's portrayal in cinematic form, not as a stand-alone film.

I understand that the move from book to movie requires changes.  There is not a way one can accurately translate a reader's imagination and a character's internal dialogue easily to the screen.  So, I go into the movie understanding that there will be changes and it won't be the same as the book.

Disappointment #1: Use of Satire

While the novel definitely has elements of humor, director Jerusha Hess, best known for Napoleon Dynamite, took that element to a new level and made Austenland a satire.

I understand how she could take it that direction.  In the end, Shannon Hale, author of the novel, is poking light fun at our society's view of romance and women's obsession with Mr. Darcy.  However, taking it to the ridiculous level that Hess does in order to emphasize the satire disregarded Hale's subtle empathy for the Darcy-obsessed.

Anyway, in order to satirize Austenland, Hess takes the characters of Miss Heartwright and Captain East, along with the rest of the reputation of the Austenland estate, and turns them on their heads.  Instead of an "immersive Regency experience" and maintaining the propriety of the era, the resort turns into a place for women to openly flaunt their sexuality at hot men, leaning more toward a strip club or Chippendales.  Not to mention Miss Charming's character, now surrounded by more of the like, was a bit much at times.

This move discounts protagonist Jane Hayes' draw for the Darcy gentleman.  Instead of it being about falling for true gentlemen, it becomes all about sensuality. However, the movie zooms so fast through Jane's introduction as a Darcy enthusiast, it comes across as farcical anyway. You never truly learn why she's drawn to the ideal or even what that ideal represents.  Additionally, this decision exaggerates Jane's struggle between the real and the fantasy, further diminishing Jane's character development.

Disappointment #2: Henry Nobley

With all of the ridiculousness of the Austenland estate, Jane and Mr. Nobley (the Darcy character) stand out as the normal ones.  By the end of the movie, you understand why Hess chose the satirical and to emphasize Nobley's Darcy-esque character traits. [SPOILER ALERT] Reason is Mr. Nobley is a history professor.

By changing Mr. Nobley's character from a player in the game to a man simply along for the ride, it alters the earnestness of Nobley's love and the sacrifice and risk he must make in order to pursue Jane.  Additionally, it now paints all of his advances while "in character" to be simply playing a game, not fulfilling a job, which makes him seem more creepy than honest.

I have to admit: the plane scene at the end of the novel is one of my favorites and I was pretty ticked off they moved that scene to Jane's apartment.  However, I would be able to forgive that decision if Nobley's motivations as a character had been left in tact.

What I Did Like

Although I was angry with the change in his character, JJ Feild surprised me.  I was a bit worried when I heard about the casting, mainly because he didn't look "broodish" enough for my tastes, but the actor carried the character well, despite the movie's rushed feel.  (He didn't have much to work with.)  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him bring the character to life.  I thought he did Mr. Henry Jenkins (book reference) justice.

I thought Martin's character was also well-played.  Played by Bret MacKenzie, the man both looked and played the part well.  He did a good job, especially, at the airport tussle scene.  He handled the dichotomy of doing his job of "smoothing out ruffled feathers" and trying to come across really attracted to Jane.

[SPOILER ALERT] On a related note, while I was confused at first by the emphasis on Jane purchasing the "copper package" for the resort, it made sense at the end because it emphasized while Martin was really scripted for her all along.

Overall, I was disappointed with the movie.  Not only did it come across as a "B-Class" film (even ignoring the limited showings in theaters), the pacing and character development were poor.  On top of that, knowing the novel, I feel Hess sacrificed the well-written subtleties of character and social commentary of the novel for the satirical show.

And in the end, lovers of Hale's novel are going to see the movie regardless.   

Soli Deo Gloria.

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