Nora Ephron used to say that there are two romantic comedy traditions, the Jewish and the Christian. In the Christian tradition, the leads face obstacles that keep them apart. In the Jewish tradition, the obstacles are the leads themselves.
Director and co-writer Jerusha Hess has created a new tradition, the I-don’t-care-how-anyone-ends-up-in-this-movie-because-I-want-them-all-to-die tradition. As an until-now secret devotee of romantic comedies, I can tell you I’ve seen them all, and I never thought I’d see a movie worse than any starring either Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey or both of them together. Austenland is rotten, terrible, dishonest, stupid, poorly filmed, indifferently written and a waste of everyone’s time.
Let’s start with the Jane Austen connection. At this point in human development, I thought we’d be done adapting her books—not because we don't like them, but after Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, is there anything left to prove?
It’s not that all Austen-inspired movies are without charm. After all, Emma gave us Clueless. Without Pride and Prejudice, there wouldn’t be Joe Wright’s excellent 2005 adaptation. But equally, without Pride and Prejudice, there would be no Bridget Jones’ Diary, and really, how did that one not end up in the crosshairs?
Not that any of that matters, because Jerusha Hess’ putrid Austenland isn’t really interested in Jane Austen or her novels. It’s marginally interested in Pride and Prejudice, but really, it’s more interested in Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, and I’m already exhausted writing about it.
To borrow a film-reviewing term from the late comedian Bill Hicks, Austenland is a piece of shit. How could one movie be so wrongheaded about Jane Austen, real human beings, obsession and love? Have you seen Napoleon Dynamite or Gentleman Broncos, which Hess co-wrote? Oh, you like Napoleon Dynamite? Then Austenland is the perfect piece of shit for you.
That’s not entirely fair, because Napoleon Dynamite has its moments—any scene featuring Uncle Rico, for example—but Austenland has no moments. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
How does one make Keri Russell, star of Austenland, into the kind of character that you’d rather push into traffic than watch on screen for 97 minutes? Make her 1) obsessed with Jane Austen; 2) single and obsessed with being single; 3) the fall guy for Jennifer Coolidge’s shitty performance; 4) the fall guy for every other shitty performance, and—spoiler alert!—they’re all shitty.
Jane (Russell—AND HER CHARACTER’S NAME IS JANE) is a sad sack asshole who works in a shitty office and has a friend who thinks she’s nuts. Jane, who looks like Keri Russell and can’t get a date (because suuuuuuuure) and is obsessed (yes, I’ve used that word four times now) with Jane Austen. Jane books a trip to Austenland in England, a resort where the vacationers wear periodish costume and play out fantasies designed by proprietor Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour, overdoing the bitch routine; Prunella Scales she ain’t).
En route Jane meets Elizabeth (Coolidge, who’s just dreadful and seems like she wandered in from a different movie), another vacationer. But Elizabeth has serious money and Jane has little, and much of the movie turns on jokes about Jane being poor—but not poor in a gee-how-will-I-offer-a-dowry way. Poor in a you-dumb-bitch-you-so-broke! way. It’s insufferable. The rest of the plot turns on Jane being stuck deciding between the rake, Martin (Bret McKenzie), and the jerk Darcy stand-in, Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild).
So how does it all play out? With you barfing in the aisles. What else can one say about a movie in which the one funny moment occurs when Jane, asked to play the piano, starts a rendition of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” OH MY GOD. SCANDALOUS.
By the way, Austenland is still better than A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Nothing else is that bad.
Directed by Jerusha Hess
With Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour
UA DeVargas Mall Cinema 6