The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) dir. Robin Swicord
Starring: Emily Blunt, Maria Bello, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace
“The Jane Austen Book Club” tells the story of five women and one man who get together once a month to discuss the revered novels of the dame of relationships and romance Jane Austen. The film would certainly be enhanced if you knew the characters and situations of the Austen oeuvre, and though there’s enough explanation for naves like me to get it, I was sadly bored with the frustrating lives of these people.
The film is framed around the depressing life of 30-something Prudie Drummond. Her name is appropriate because she is the epitome of a cynical prude. She teaches high school French and expresses her snobby superiority by speaking French in the middle of conversations. She loathes her uber-guy boyfriend who seems to put his career of their relationship. And she also longs to bed one of her hunky teenage students. Instead of therapy she attends the Jane Austen Book Club. The other members of the club are more grounded – Bernadette (Kathy Baker) the 4 times married senior, Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) who’s recently been dumped by her husband for another woman, Allegra (Maggie Grace), a lesbian with a extreme-sports fetish, and Jocelyn (Maria Bello), a single woman who prefers the company of dogs to men.
As each book gets read the situations and characters give greater meaning to their lives. Like “Sex and the City” the women gather at a Starbucks to discuss their characters and comfort each other as their crises deepens. The runt of the group, which provides the most substance of plot is Grigg (Hugh Dancy) – an almost too perfect unattached catch. He’s hunky, got great hair, is a millionaire, makes his own eco-friendly cars, and loves of science-fiction novels – imagine a young Richard Branson meets Steve Jobs. Grigg is torn between Sylvia and Jocelyn. He dates them both, yet neither want to commit to him. It’s utterly implausible that Grigg would even spend more than an hour with these ladies, let alone spend 6 months with them – especially with the exhausting Prudie moping about. So Grigg serves the role of the Austen male – the Mr. Darcy or Christopher Brandon (I admit I had to look these names up).
I guess my main problem with the film were the reactions and actions of the characters to their situations. Though I’m not a woman, I think the audience should be able to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist, in this case, at least one of the characters. And I couldn’t do it. Each characters seem not like the accessible Austen characters, but a manipulated version of them to create drama and conflict.
Granted, Prudie’s final decisive moments, where she receives a sign from the divine – “What would Jane do?”, was a great moment – well written and directed. We finally saw an emotional and conflicted choice, which allowed Prudie to grow and become a better person. Unfortunately the 90 minutes prior to this was to much tedium for me.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment