Austenland is a somewhat sloppy, fairly goofy little movie that has been pretty unfairly dismissed by the bulk of the critical world — mostly, I think, because of a basic misunderstanding of what the film means to be. The general opinion stems from the idea that Austenland is supposed to be a Jane Austen spoof and that is not, I think, the point of the film. Rather, this first directorial effort from Jerusha Hess seems aimed at the American-based Austen cult that has less to do with Austen’s work than with the idea of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice and Firth’s modern counterpart Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Viewed in that regard, Hess’ little movie is a reasonably successful, entertaining and genial spoof — not satire — of that mania. The film stars Keri Russell as Jane Hayes, as rabid a Darcy-phile as you could hope (or not) to meet, who decides to blow her life savings on a trip to Austenland — a tourist attraction in Great Britain that promises a total immersion in the world of Jane Austen. That the whole thing is an absurdity ought to be telegraphed by the fact that its proprietess, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), carries a taxidermied lamb around with her, but if you’re a romantic 30-something who’s increasingly desperate to find a Mr. Darcy of your own, I guess you overlook some things. It turns out that there’s more to overlook than a stuffed lamb — not the least of which is the fact that as the bargain-rate guest, Jane is shunted into the servants’ wing and generally looked down upon. On the other hand, the shamelessly vulgar and excessively wealthy Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge, who makes no bones, shall we say, about admiring the indelicately-tailored Regency trousers) is shown every deference. What transpires is not exactly packed with surprises, but it mostly hits all the right notes along the way.
Director: Jerusha Hess
Writer: Jerusha Hess
Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, James Callis, Jane Seymour and Ricky Whittle