MRR Review: "Austenland"

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

MRR Review: "Austenland"

Rating: PG-13 (some suggestive content and innuendo)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 16, 2013
Directed by: Jerusha Hess
Genre: Comedy/Romance

After enjoying massive worldwide success from previous films based on her books, Stephenie Meyer tackled production for the first time and produced "Austenland," a romantic comedy based on the 2007 Shannon Hale novel of the same name. Much like the "Twilight" series that launched Stephenie Meyer's career, "Austenland" is packed with characters who seem to be straight out of history, which was one of the reasons Stephenie Meyer chose to produce it. Of course, in "Austenland," the characters have reason to seem like they belong in a bygone era. Austenland is a fictional British resort in which the era frequently referred to as the "Austen" era, the early 1800s, has been lovingly recreated. The people who live and work in Austenland are much like the real people who lived during the time of the writing ofPride and Prejudiceand other famous Jane Austen novels, all the way down to the way they talk and interact with each other.

Keri Russell stars as a woman named Jane Hayes who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Even though she is around thirty years old and seems normal at first, she is so focused on her infatuation with Mr. Darcy that she has no love life to speak of. She is specifically obsessed with Colin Firth's interpretation of the character in the movie "Pride and Prejudice" that aired on the BBC. Her adoration for Darcy is not simply a hobby or a fun pastime. She compares the real men she dates to the character and nitpicks everything they do until she is convinced no regular man can be anything like the Darcy she dreams of marrying.

Because her life is not going anywhere, she decides to spend everything she has on a trip to Austenland to spend a long vacation with other women who are almost as obsessed with the world of Jane Austen as she is. Her best friend tries, to no avail, to convince her to change her mind about spending her life savings on such an unhealthy pursuit, but Jane Hayes will have none of it. Even though Jane Hayes can only afford the basic package as opposed to the much more expensive version that allows fancy activities and privileges, she goes for it anyway and books her trip. When she arrives, she realizes her dream of finding a dapper gentleman like Darcy is actually attainable as she is immediately surrounded by men who seem as if they stepped right out of the pages of her favorite story. Perhaps she can even find Darcy himself.

She learns quickly that Austenland has very strict rules to achieve complete immersion, much to her delight, and those rules include a few dedicated to courtship. Unbeknown to her, the package she purchased guarantees that one of the handsome, charming male actors at Austenland will romance her. However, touching in any way that could be inappropriate is explicitly forbidden, which only makes them seem more like gentlemen. Even though her package only allows her to be romanced by Martin, the stable boy, she also gets the attention of Henry Nobley, who has dedicated his acting career at Austenland to impersonating every aspect of Darcy himself. His performance wins the attention of Jane Hayes immediately, but there is something about Martin's demeanor that keeps drawing her back toward him. Before long, fiction becomes reality when a genuine love triangle develops between the two would be suitors and the woman they are both trying to woo.

"Austenland" is a generally lighthearted, playful film with plenty of laughs and genuine sweet moments. There are very few films like "Austenland," which, in spite of having a rather common plot, is extremely unique in its approach. The lines between what's true and what's just an act are continuously blurred, especially during scenes that depict the actors at the resort when they are supposed to be out of character. At its heart, "Austenland" is a story about an unusual, offbeat young woman who has tried so long to fit in that she has finally given up and is going to pursue her dreams regardless of what it costs her.

Because the romance is spread out evenly amid humorous moments between the over-the-top characters, "Austenland" appeals to a wide variety of audiences and rises above what's considered typical for modern romantic comedies. Most of these films take themselves too seriously, but "Austenland" strikes the perfect balance between humor and romance. "Austenland" is an ideal film for anyone who wants to enjoy a good laugh while experiencing an uplifting, feel-good story that is truly an original.

Rating: 3 out of 5