Reviewed by James R. Janowsky
I knew going into the screening of AUSTENLAND that I was not the target demographic for the film. Even in the press notes the co-writer/director Jerusha Hess mentions that after writing the scripts for NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE, and GENTLEMEN BRONCOS that she wanted to “start making movies for girls.” Which is perfectly fine because I’ve watched numerous movies where I was not the target audience, but I still enjoyed them.
Unfortunately, I have to say that I was not a big fan of AUSTENLAND. The problem with the film is that it does not target its core audience enough. They had a really interesting idea in the film about what it means to be a crazed fan, in this case a Jane Austen fangirl. I think this is a great idea. There are so many films that satiate fanboys that it is wonderful and novel to have a film for fangirls that is also about fangirls. But the script, adapted from Shannon Hale’s book of the same name (she’s also a co-writer of the screenplay), was not satirical or clever enough to pull it off.
There is another interesting idea in the film that doesn’t get fully developed. It is the idea between reality and fantasy, and its correlation with how someone falls in love. In the film Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is the lead fangirl. She lives and breaths Jane Austen, going so far as to having her entire apartment filled with Jane Austen memorabilia, and even a life size cutout of Mr. Darcy from a production of “Pride and Prejudice”.
So when Jane arrives at Austenland, basically a theme camp that is the ultimate fantasy for any true Austen lover, it better live up to her fantasy expectations. In my estimation it doesn’t, and this is where the film ultimately fails because you never get the sense that Austenland is that spectacular, or even steeped in Jane Austen’s fictional worlds. So in order for this interesting idea of fantasy versus reality, and how it impacts how we fall in love, the fantasy world has to be believable in order to contrast reality.
Then there is the problem of the romance, which is the dramatic action of the film. The man that she falls in love with doesn’t seem to be earned. Matter of fact, the person that she falls in love with is more active in pursuing Jane then she is in pursuing him. This severely undermines the ending of the film.
There are some bright points in the film. Ms. Hess’ direction is good for her debut. I really do look forward to seeing her next project, and her evolution as a director. The performances are professional, but hampered by a weak screenplay. Jennifer Coolidge is very funny as Miss Elizabeth Charming, but I felt like I have seen her play this same type of character in the past, or at least given a similar performance in the past. The overall look of the production seemed authentic, which added a visual legitimacy to the story. I just wish the overall story had been better in the film.
This review originally appeared on the filmsinreview.com website.