Austenland ** (PG-13) Perhaps I’m too old, and too male to relate to this film’s target demographic and have a shot at appreciating this present-day romantic comedy set in the elegance of yesteryear. If not, Ms. Austen might be spinning in her grave over this latest attempt to milk her literary legacy.
The usually appealing Keri Russell stars as Jane, a young American who is so obsessed with the romanticism of Austen’s novels that her actual life is a shambles. Her inner preoccupation with all that era’s idealized courtliness keeps her attention (and decor) rooted in fantasies, barely able to notice the attentions of men or others around her. Guys can act out their dreams at sports fantasy camps, where they can role-play some semblance of their dashed childhood aspirations of being professional athletes in their game of choice. Jane discovers an Austen immersion experience at a real English mansion, with a guaranteed simulated proposal as part of the package. It drains her life savings, but a gal‘s gotta do ...
There’s nothing wrong with the premise. But writer/director Jerusha Hess fills the screen with annoyingly cartoonish characters. Jane Seymour pompously presides over the posh premises like the demon spawn of Miss Manners and Nurse Ratched. Jennifer Coolidge, who’s mined considerable gold from a string of diversely hilarious bimbo roles, hits a career low on the rich-horny-and-stupid trifecta. Russell’s Jane finds that her luggage isn’t the only type of baggage she brought to the event.
Romance does, in fact, swirl, with lines blurred between what’s really developing between the principals and what’s part of the program. Yet the collective charisma of all involved is woefully inadequate. The plot’s few twists fall far short of balancing the hyperbolic nonsense that sinks the overall production. If you want some fun with derivatives of Austen’s body of work, rent Clueless. It’s hard to believe that Hess, who wrote Napoleon Dynamite, could have become this heavy-handed so soon after that initial flash of brilliance. (9/6/13)