A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Austenland (based on the novel by Shannon Hale) is a fun romantic comedy, despite the fact that it falls back on some of the typical romcom cliches, making it seem like women need to be rescued from a life of loneliness by romance. Still, it does try to question those predictable assumptions somewhat and is buoyed by strong performances. Jane Austen fans will particularly enjoy the inside jokes and references to her work. There's not much language (except for "crap") and no drinking (though one character acts drunk), but you can expect some kissing and heavy flirting (as befits a movie with an Austen theme).
What's the story?
Jane (Keri Russell) is a huge Jane Austen fan. Her entire apartment is filled with Austen-abilia, including a life-sized cardboard cutout of the actor Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy. Life, for Jane, is drab and dreary, her job going nowhere fast, the men misogynistic and opportunistic. So when she discovers that there's a theme park in England for Austen-philes like her, where she can live out the fantasy of being an Austen heroine headed for a happily ever after, off across the pond she goes. There she meets the money-minded proprietor of Austenland, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour); a friendly, ditzy American who goes by her Austen moniker, Ms. Charming (Jennifer Coolidge); and Ms. Wattlesbrook's nephew, the brooding Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild). But it's the stable hand/groundskeeper, Martin (Bret McKenzie), who's Jane's true lure. But is he Mr. Right?
Is it any good?
It won't be a classic like the books written by Jane Austen, who's revered here. But AUSTENLAND (itself based on the novel by Shannon Hale) is worth the investment, anyway, if only to see Russell conduct a master class in naturalistic acting. As silly as her character may sometimes be, she's authentic and relatable, which elevates this fairly formulaic movie. That and the delicious Coolidge, who often trades in wacky, frothy roles like Ms. Charming but nonetheless still makes them seem fresh and funny.
Alas, Austenland lacks a mesmerizing Darcy, or any compelling male love interest, for that matter. They pale in comparison to Russell, their characters drawn thinner than onion skin. (It's also lacking in the brilliant banter that made Austen's work so appealing.) The movie sometimes tiptoes into substantive territory when it has Jane straining against the circumscribed roles that women in Austen's times were assigned. But in the end, it's a trifle -- albeit an amusing, somewhat satisfying one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Jane's obsession with her namesake. What is it about Jane Austen's fictional world that appeals to the character Jane? Why is it unhealthy for her? Do you have to be an Austen fan yourself to appreciate this movie?
Do some books (and movies) set up unrealistic expectations about romance and love? If so, how so?
Does Austenland question the stereotypes of the romcom genre or uphold them?
- In theaters: August 16, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: Bret McKenzie, Jane Seymour, Jennifer Coolidge, Keri Russell
- Director: Jerusha Hess
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Book characters
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some suggestive content and innuendo
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