I always like to start the Sundance Film Festival with something fun, so I’m glad that my first screening this year was Austenland. Screenplay writer Jerusha Hess‘s directorial debut, this film is a delightful mix of charm, satire, romance, and irreverence. Though it takes some time to find and establish its tone, the humor is saucy, witty, and brilliantly executed by its cast. This quirky dramatic comedy will have Austen aficionados tickled pink and Austen greenhorns equally entertained.
- Director: Jerusha Hess
- Screenwriter(s): Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale
- Cinematographer(s): Larry Smith
- Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis, Jane Seymour
Jane (Russell), happier in her Jane Austen daydreams than in her real life, has barely enough money to pay for her ultimate fantasy: a one week vacation to Austenland, where guests spend a week as a Regency era character living immersed in Austen’s world, complete with actors drawing each guest into a make-believe love affair (no touching!). Her limited funds relegate her to a lower social class than her fellow guests, but she catches the eye of both a curmudgeonly nobleman and a handsome footman; but only one of them is being paid to be her romantic interest. Whom can she trust?
This film is great fun, thanks to some stellar performances. Keri Russell’s character struggling to move a hay bale and Georgia King’s character attempting period-correct parlance were close to perfection. Bret McKenzie is silly and adorable, per usual. JJ Feild is a convincing and sincere Darcy. Jane Seymour delivers as the prim and proper lady of the house. Finally, I have to applaud James Callis’ Monty-Python worthy comedic performance. His over-the-top, expertly timed parody of the 19th century romantic gentleman gave me more laugh-out-loud moments than I’ve had in a long time.
There are parts of this film that are untidy. In the rush to get Russell’s character to Austenland, her back story and motivations were blundered through. I was confused about what kind of film it was, as it tries to be dramatic and sentimental (especially in the beginning) when its clear strength is in its comedy. A good example of this is the collection of montages, which vary from serious (in the beginning) to slapstick (toward the end). I wish the film had dropped the serious pretexts and been consistently humorous and self-deprecating throughout.
The shortcomings are forgivable in exchange for the performances, which are fabulous. And for those of us who love period dramas, we get beautiful costumes, elaborate sets, and a satisfactory fairytale ending.