Austenland is a strange labor of love from 2013 – a fictitious story about an Austenphile (which seems to be a common riff amongst some films – the existence of someone who’s such a fan of a single author’s works that they consume every possible spin-off/collectible that could exist, but that’s a common theme with Harry Potter and Star Wars). Jane (how pretentious) Hayes (Keri Russell) is a superfan of Jane Austen’s works, with her favorite adaptation of the books being the legendary BBC TV mini-series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1995 starring Colin Firth. While that series does have a vast swath of fans, Jane Hayes truly takes it to comical lengths – even owning a life-size cardboard cutout of Firth as Mr. Darcy, while festooning her entire apartment with Austen trivets, trinkets, and collectibles.
With her life at a standstill, a dead-end job, no prospects on the horizon, and consoling herself by immersing herself wholly into Austen’s books, Jane decides to spend her entire life savings on visiting an Austen theme park in England. It’s wholly plausible that such a place could exist, especially in England. Upon arrival, the guests are instructed that they will be living the Austen experience, including a romance, but that everything is make-believe.
As Jane isn’t wealthy, she was only able to pay for the lowest tier experience, which means that she has the worst of everything: accommodations, clothing, and experiences. It’s equivalent to being a hanger-on in the Victorian era. Despite being “plain Jane”, she still manages to have a grand old time in make-believe world. There’s even a romance cooked up for her, with the fantasy being central to the plot twist at the end (which is still a bit predictable). It’s intended to bring the epic failure that is Jane’s life full circle from her lonerishness in high school:
Obviously, it’s hard to see Keri Russell looking this bad in any way other than on purpose. Russell plays herself in the high school flashbacks, and as sad as it is to say it, but she can’t pass for Felicity anymore. She’s aging gracefully and is still as stunning as ever though:
The youthful infatuation with Colin Firth as previously mentioned then leads Jane into adulthood and while admittedly a bit over the top at times with the Austen fandom, it isn’t so out of place when you consider geekdom and nerds of all types and kinds, especially with Star Wars and that type of devotion. It’s just a bit odd when it’s not something like steampunk, but is just a regular obsession with regular people. That’s probably what makes that sort of obsession with Austen very off-putting to most people. It’s essentially the same as being a crazed stalker of fictional people, instead of harboring a desire to live in another universe where the rules may be different.
And yet the rules are different in Austenland. I’ve been remiss to mention that Jennifer Coolidge provides most of the comedy in this film, and it desperately needs her. I don’t think the film would even be as successful as it is (which isn’t very much) if it wasn’t for Coolidge and her patented sex-maven persona that she pulls out for American Pie and 2 Broke Girls.
Of course, hilarity ensues, but always with a stiff upper lip. It passes for highbrow lowbrow fare for women, which I assume was the entire goal of this film considering that it was made for women by women. The downside is that making a film for half the potential population usually doesn’t make a good film. It’s the films that reach the entire audience that resonate, although there’s no shame in making a money grab or making a popcorn movie. Austenland is neither of these things, so we’re left with a strange film that all in all generally gives us the sense that it’s “okay”. Never good, never bad. The sort of film that ends up being forgettable, a side-note in the resumes of the people involved.
The easiest way for me to explain what I mean is that this movie has no soul. No overt meaning. No ambition to be more than what it is. That’s not to say that it’s a waste of time or not entertaining. It’s just average.
Just like Austenland itself, it’s just a facade. Something given to the viewer to make of it however they’d like to. And this viewer has failed to find a reason to watch this film again. I’m glad to have watched it once as part of Keri Rusell’s oeuvre, but I doubt that I’ll ever screen this film again in my lifetime.
MPAA Rating: PG