Starring: Keri Russell, Bret McKenzie, JJ Feild
Director: Jerusha Hess
Running Time: 97 mins
Austenland is an American film about an American woman with an addictive love for the novels of Jane Austen who takes the trip of a lifetime to England, where she spends a holiday in the simulated world of Austenland, giving her the chance to experience high society for real. However, not everything goes exactly as she dreamed.
Both attempting to deliver a charmingly quirky comedy and a clever twist on classic Jane Austen fare, Austenland unfortunately comes up all muddled in the end. While it’s not a terrible film, and there is a degree of originality and ingenuity to appreciate, it struggles to makes the blurry lines between reality and facade work well in its commentary on Austen’s work, also making for a confusing and often frustating watch on the comedic side of things.
And it’s on that last point I want to start, because while this film’s look at the works of Austen and tropes in the literature do offer up some interesting and original ideas, the one thing that really doesn’t work about Austenland is the comedy.
While it’s definitely not there as a big laugh-out-loud comedy, it attempts to make you laugh through a combination of sheer farce and quirky charisma, areas which both really don’t work at all. The farcical, sillier side of things just isn’t particularly funny, with repetitive humour that’s far too general on its mockery of Austen’s literature and tropes, while the quirky side of things really fails to pick up steam in a story that does at first seem suited to such an atmosphere.
And curiously, I think that failure comes down to Keri Russell’s performance. I’m a big fan of Russell, and her performances in a number of films and television shows prove her natural talent, but there’s something about this performance that makes me feel she was a little miscast.
Although she convincingly portrays a fanatic Jane Austen lover, and also does well in the film’s latter stages when her dreamy illusion of high society is shattered, I found it really difficult to love her character in that quirky way, and certainly when compared to her truly wonderful turn in Waitress.
Waitress nailed both the quirkiness and the sheer lovability, and Russell’s beautiful performance was easily the driving factor, but in this film, she just doesn’t carry across that ingenue factor in either particularly entertaining or even engaging fashion, meaning that her dreamy-eyed perception of Austenland before she arrives just doesn’t feel all that convincing.
So, on the comedic/quirky side of things, I can’t say that Austenland is much of a success, but when it comes to its other ideas and themes, it occasionally offers up some interesting ideas.
In its parodying of the tropes of Jane Austen’s work, the film cleverly mocks and pays homage to the classic Pride & Prejudice story, doing so in a way that’s not overly blatant, and in fact evolves nicely from its own story into a mirror image of the Austen classic, which provides some good entertainment late on.
Having said that, some of its more ambitious ideas just don’t come off in such strong fashion, particularly with its overly complex and unfortunately convoluted attempts to talk about the facades of high society in the context of a ‘simulated Austen experience’.
While it’s a bold and interesting idea, the line between who the people in Austenland really are – actors or actual people – is far too blurry to get even the slightest grasp of, and it really takes away from any emotional investment you have in the relationships that develop throughout, with your attention being distracted from the lovey-dovier side of things to just trying to figure out who the people on screen actually are.
Overall, then, I wasn’t overly enamoured by Austenland. Principally a poor comedy, it fails to impress with a quirky and likable premise, as well as featuring an uncharacteristically poor turn from Keri Russell in the lead role. Its ideas and nods to Jane Austen’s work do bring up some interesting and original ideas, some of which work well, but some of which really miss the mark, and that’s why I’m giving this film a 6.5.