With so much fanfare being directed towards "Priscilla" and Peaches Christ's "Showgirls," a small sweet movie sneaked into town today.
"Austenland," from the writer of "Napoleon Dynamite," is the story of Jane, who is obsessed with everything that is Jane Austen and decides to take a vacation, back in time of sorts, to Austenland, where they re-create the caste system of old England and try to manipulate situations so every damsel meets her Darcy (from Austen's "Pride & Prejudice.").
Keri Russell plays Jane, who would turn off any suitor when they see her collection of Austen memorabilia. Jane is, however, able to successfully inhabit the lifestyle of a modern-minded woman in olden times, much like the character of Elizabeth Bennet in the Austen novel.
Those in love with "Pride & Prejudice" might enjoy this as just being another variation of the same story. Those who are prudish about it, might turn their nose up at the production as it has very little surprises because in many ways it's sort of a remake of "Pride."
Yet, it's very charming, funny, witty and just a terrific time at the movies. Russell has shown her niche is in these smaller films just like she did in the movie "Waitress." And here she has a great supporting cast, including Jane Seymour as the puppet master who runs the Austenland retreat, and the always hilarious Jennifer Coolidge, who can add another notch to her belt of memorable characters which also includes "Best in Show," "American Pie" and "Legally Blonde."
Additionally, the writing talents of Jerusha Hess are not under utilized. She is able to intermingle a lot of off and weird situations like she did in "Napoleon" and still keep the regalness of the period, turning much of the movie into an outright parody, especially in the scenes of Ricky Whittle as he flexes every muscle sipping tea (perhaps a talent he learned from his character's soap opera background). Also put to good use is Georgia King, as another guest at Austenland, whose over-the-top put-upon accent shows us that her career will go on after the cancellation of TV's "The New Normal."JJ Feild and Bret McKenzie also rise to the occasion as Jane's suitors, making a perfect love triangle, and both vying to be romantic leading men.
"Austenland" may not be remembered at Oscar time. But it's pleasant and fun and a wonderful distraction.
The studio is hoping word of mouth builds its audience so for now, it's currently playing at only five theatres in the Bay Area. My bet would be to enjoy it at Berkeley's Shattuck Cinema (www.landmarktheatres.com) but if you wait until next week and are in San Francisco, don't battle that closed bridge and go to Sundance Kabuki Cinema (www.sundancecinemas.com).