Modern Persuasion

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Modern Persuasion Movie Poster Image
Bland Austen modernization has drinking, innuendo.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 87 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive messages.

Positive Messages

Encourages honesty, open communication (even though misunderstandings do fuel some of the plot), and following your heart, even when it's difficult. Celebrates women having successful careers and positive friendships.

Positive Role Models

Wren is ambitious, smart, dedicated, and a loyal friend. Owen is intelligent and compassionate. The cast includes some diverse representations: The main characters are White and straight, but supporting characters are Black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQ+.

Violence

A woman falls, breaks her leg, and has to go to the hospital.

Sex

Jokes about hooking up. It's implied that a couple's frazzled appearance is due to them having had sex in an office. A couple of actors wear very small bikinis. Characters make sexual innuendos and references to hooking up.

Language

Infrequent: "a--hole," "ass," "beeyotch," "sucks," "pompous jerk," "garbage," "jackass."

Consumerism

Lots of Apple products: MacBook, iPhone, iPad, AirPods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at various dinners, bars, and parties: mostly champagne, wine, beer, and cocktails.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Modern Persuasion is an updated adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Persuasion. It stars Alicia Witt as the Anne Elliot character, here called Wren, and Shane McRae as Capt. Wentworth stand-in Owen. This take on the story isn't quite as tween-friendly as previous adaptations: There's a bit of language ("ass," "a--hole," "beeyotch") and lots of drinking by adults at parties, dinners, and bars. Sexual innuendo and references to hooking up are more overt as well. There's no violence, per se, but one character's injury requires hospitalization. While main characters are White and straight, the supporting cast offers diverse representations, including Black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQ+ characters. 

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What's the story?

MODERN PERSUASION is based on Jane Austen's final finished novel, Persuasion. It follows single, successful New Yorker Wren (Alicia Witt), a senior marketing executive at a boutique firm that's just taken on multimillionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur Owen (Shane McRae) -- who happens to be Wren's college boyfriend, whom she hasn't seen in a decade. Wren isn't sure how she'll handle being around Owen again, but once they re-meet, her much younger colleagues flirt and chat and get their entire team invited to his Hamptons beach house. Owen's presence brings back Wren's devastating memories of how her Aunt Vanessa (Bebe Neuwirth) convinced her to break up with him so Wren could focus on her career, rather than romance. Wren can't help wondering whether it's too late to recapture the love they once shared.

Is it any good?

This flat Austen update is a missed opportunity to bring the author's oldest, most mature heroine to a new generation of viewers. While it makes sense that Wren (the Anne Elliot character) would be a thirtysomething career woman second-guessing her long-ago decision not to accept Owen's (the Wentworth stand-in) proposal to follow her to California when they were in their twenties, other elements of Modern Persuasion seem too thinly connected to the material. There's little left here about class snobbery and social mores; instead, this version is a standard second-chance romance with a few familiar plot points (like a pretty younger friend's injury and a best friend mourning the loss of his fiancee). The only imaginative part of the update is the conversation that Wren has with Sam (Dominic Rains), the Benwick of this version. Rather than discuss and quote melancholy Romantic poets, they have an entire conversation about the depressing poetry of New Wave musicians like The Smiths, Joy Division, and the Cure. 

That one wink-wink nod to Generation X audiences aside, the movie is an underwhelming interpretation of Austen's book. Those interested in the story would be much better off watching the 1995 adaptation with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds -- or, better yet, the 2007 BBC version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. At the very least, the directors of Modern Persuasion manage to include the name Wentworth (Wren's beloved cat) and a few lines from the famous love letter that Wentworth writes to Anne: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope." Owen is right -- that really is one of the best love letters in literary history. Although the filmmakers do get a nod for featuring a diverse cast, the movie itself lacks the emotional gravity of previous adaptations.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the enduring popularity of Jane Austen's novels and the films based on them. What character strengths are on display in Modern Persuasion? What makes them important?

  • For those familiar with the book: How does it compare to the source material? What elements of the book don't translate well to the modernization, and which do?

  • Why did Wren break up with Owen in the first place? What makes him more "suitable" now? How did others use their titular persuasion to influence Wren's decision?

  • How do class and privilege factor into the movie? How about age? Do you think modern women are considered "old maids" like they used to be?

Movie details

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