Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{Austenland opens in Seattle on Friday, August 30, and is screening at AMC Pacific Place and the Landmark Guild 45th} 

I am a lover of all things Jane Austen, but crappy rom-coms loosely based on her work don't usually fall into that category. The thing is, the more I think about Austenland, the more I grow fond of it. 

Austenland is based on a chick-lit novel by Shannon Hale, and is about a woman named Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is has been obsessed with Jane Austen, and in particular, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice her entire life. So much so, that she's eschewed any kind of romantic attachment while literally waiting for a man on the white horse to arrive and sweep her off her feet. 

Despite her cranky pregnant friend's protests, Jane spends her entire savings on a trip to "Austenland," a carefully constructed Old English paradise wherein one can pretend to be a character in an Austen novel, with a promised happy ending — sort of. The male characters are played by actors who may go above and beyond the call of duty IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Wink, wink. Oh, and it's presided over by a lady named Mrs. Waddlebrook (Jane Seymour! What.)

Hayes makes the trip over to England and soon finds herself the subject of romantic interest by both scruffy coach driver and stablehand Martin (Bret McKenzie), and stiff yet handsome Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild). OH NO. WHO WILL OUR HEROINE CHOOSE?  

It sounds terrible, right? But here's the thing, this film was Directed by Jerusha Hess, and she also co-scripted the screenplay. Hess is the one who penned both Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, and once I realized that, EVERYTHING about Austenland made total sense. 

This isn't just a cheesy over-the-top romantic comedy that could play on Lifetime, this is a cheesy over-the-top romantic comedy that is absolutely and totally making fun of cheesy over-the-top romantic comedies. Hence the presence of Jennifer Coolidge as wealthy lonleyheart Miss Elizabeth Charming, who's so out there it's almost unbelievable. But that fits within the theme, as do the sweeping musical montages (with mostly bad music), ridiculous costumes, and stereotypical rom-com devices that fill every frame. 

Still, I found myself laughing and laughing and laughing, because I felt like everybody in this film knew there were poking fun at the genre. Plus, what can I say? The Austen nerd in me appreciated that even though it was the plot was completely ridiculous, it threw in nods to her most iconic characters and story lines. And of course (SPOILER ALERT) there's a happy ending. Duh. 

I'm really curious to see how diehard romantic fans take to it, as it's way more comedy than romance! But I honestly really enjoyed it, and I'd absolutely watch it again.