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Darcy 4 eva.
What to expect going into this? There's Keri Russell holding an "I Love Mr. Darcy" t-shirt on the cover. Does that mean I'm getting a slobbering tongue bath over the superiority of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries? I hope so, because that show freaking ruled.
Facts of the Case
Jane Hayes (Russell, Mission: Impossible III) is a Jane Austen die-hard. Her bedroom is decked out with all manner of Austen paraphernalia and she has the scene of Colin Firth swimming in a pond on constant loop. Unfortunately, this devotion to timeless romance hasn't translated to a successful love life of her own, so she's been stuck in the mire of fantasy.
When she learns of a getaway roleplaying vacation called "Austenland," which gives participants the opportunity to partake in a real-life piece of escapism. So Jane empties her bank account for the experience of a lifetime and, of course, it doesn't quite go as she planned.
Despite my skepticism—this is just going to be a 90 minute Darcy fan video, right?—I am happy to report that Austenland is a simply delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Brought to us by Jerusha Hess, wife of Napoleon Dynamite auteur Jared Hess, Austenland features the light touch and lack-of-cynicism characterized by a Hess production, but is free of the overt quirkiness. Indeed, despite its fantastical premise, the film plays closer to a traditional romantic comedy than a non sequitur-laced romp.
So how about the concept? It's out there for sure, the idea of an Austen-themed fantasy camp, yet Hess is deft in weaving the outlandish elements with the grounded nuts and bolts of love and loss. At the center of it all is Keri Russell, who is predictably awesome. Her Jane started off kind of bumpy—she was essentially playing a dopey, oblivious fangirl—but as the film developed and the secondary characters slotted into place, she settled down and became more realistic. Important, because the romantic tension in the film kicks in concurrently, and that stuff really is fairly effective.
An added plus: Austenland is funny. I am not ashamed to confess I laughed out loud more than a few times, and that's mainly because of the great Jennifer Coolidge, who plays a wealthy, obnoxious Austenland-goer who conjures as many hack variations of American impressions of British vernacular as possible. Quite funny.
The laughs dial down a decent bit as the "romantic" aspect of "romantic comedy" spools up, but, thankfully, this stuff is sweet-natured and satisfying. Though seeing the immortal Bret McKenize playing a rakish rogue remains unsettling.
Decent Blu-ray for the festivities: a sharp 2.40:1, 1080p transfer (benefitting from the film's venue, a lush, bucolic spread) joins a handful of 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (English, French and Portuguese) to serve up an above-average technical presentation. Extras include commentary from Hess and producer Stephenie Meyer and a lengthy and lively Q&A with the cast.
Even if you don't live and breathe Jane Austen, there is breezy fun to be had here.
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