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Overall Rating
3.22

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look70.37%
Just Average: 3.7%
Pretty Crappy: 3.7%
Sucks: 22.22%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Jane Austen Book Club, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Just As Insufferable As It Sounds"
1 stars

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject of Jane Austen by any means but I suspect that if she were to arise from the grave and amble over to the local multiplex, she would be absolutely appalled by “The Jane Austen Book Club,” the latest attempt by Hollywood to squeeze Austen cultists for a few more bucks with another shabby movie trading on her good name. Creakily plotted, smugly condescending and jam-packed with characters who are either bores or boors–in other words, the complete opposite of Austen’s own works–this is a film that claims to celebrate the power of great writing without ever displaying any real evidence of it on its own.

The premise of the film is that six people with messy personal lives gather together to form a book group that will discuss each one of Austen’s six novels over the next few months–the joke, of course, is that it turns out that the lives of each of the members begins to parallel the storylines of the books they are in charge of discussing. There is Bernadette (Kathy Baker), the instigator of the group and one of those flamboyant and self-satisfied types who are never quite as charming or colorful as they clearly seem to think they are. There is Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), the middle-aged woman whose rotter husband (Jimmy Smits) has just left her for another woman and who now despairs that she will never find love again. Jocelyn (Maria Bello), on the other hand, doesn’t believe in love herself but thrives on matching up other people whether they want it or not–to that end, she drags cute stranger Grigg (Hugh Dancy) into the group in order to set him up with Sylvia, even though he is clearly interested in Jocelyn, and then finds herself getting all jealous when he finally goes after her. There is Allegra (Maggie Grace), who is both Sylvia’s daughter and an impulsive romantic who plunges herself wholeheartedly into one relationship after another without ever pausing to consider if any of her various partners are actually right for her. Finally, there is Prudie (Emily Blunt), a snobby schoolteacher who is trapped in a hellish marriage to Dean (Marc Blucas), the kind of hateful boor who, horror of horrors, actually likes watching sporting events and playing video games–acts so vile and monstrous that they force her to contemplate having an affair with one of her high-school students, a stud who melts her heart with such touching come-on’s as “I’m in “Brigadoon”–will you help me run lines?”

Those of you dumb enough to walk into “The Jane Austen Book Club” expecting to hear thoughtful discussions on Jane Austen and why her books continue to resonate with audiences nearly 200 years after they were originally published will be enormously disappointed to discover that the film and the characters offer virtually no insights into the woman or her work and the few that do crop up are the kind that you ordinarily hear in a high school English class just before the teacher sadly asks if maybe someone else can offer up a little more substantial and thought-provoking. Instead, the film merely exploits both her good name and good work by applying them to something utterly unworthy of either. The various storylines are little more than familiar cliches–Will the new divorcee find happiness? Will the teacher find happiness in the arms of her husband or her hunky student? Will the woman who claims that she will never fall in love find happiness with the guy she has tried to fix up with her best friend? Will the flighty lesbian ever find happiness in a relationship that doesn’t begin in an emergency room?–that have been mixed in with Austen’s plot outlines in a manner that transforms her intricately woven plots into nothing more that soap opera silliness that have as much literary and dramatic weight as a quickie paperback movie novelization. As for the characters, they are all such boring and self-absorbed twits that you not only don’t want to spend two hours watching them fret about their uninteresting personal problems while congratulating themselves for having the wit, taste and depth to fully appreciate Jane Austen, you want to stop reading any fiction at all for fear of one day becoming as drab and dopey as they are.

There is one decent performance in “The Jane Austen Book Club”–a shame, since it does have a pretty good cast–and that is the one turned in by British actress Emily Blunt (whom you probably saw in “The Devil Wears Prada,” probably didn’t see in “Wind Chill” and probably didn’t but should have seen in “My Summer of Love” as the seemingly snobbish teacher who finds herself drifting away from her husband. It is pretty much an unplayable role–one of those parts in which we are supposed to feel for the poor and misunderstood heroine because her boorish husband simply doesn’t understand her beautiful qualities but all we can do is wonder why she married the dope in the first place if he is that much of a dope–but she does a pretty good job of selling us on both her character’s current state of despair and the long-simmering hurts that have made her the person that she is. (That said, even she can’t sell us on the flirtation with her student, a subplot that I can’t help but think would have come across much differently if the teacher were an unhappily married man and the student was a teenage girl.) It is a good performance in a very bad movie and it makes you wish that someone would go ahead and cast her in a straightforward Austen adaptation (anything but “Pride and Prejudice,” please) that would be worthy of her talents instead of a dreadful chick-lit adaptation that is clearly far beneath her.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16503&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/21/07 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/08/09 Alexandra definitely one of the better chick flicks ;] 4 stars
12/13/07 William Goss All flusters and flirting, complete with Aimee Mann tunes and canine reaction shots. 2 stars
10/08/07 Deirdre Farting not involved? Shucks! I hoped to learn Jane Austen farted just like I do! 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Sep-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Feb-2008

UK
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