Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TIFF 2007: The Jane Austen Book Club (U.S.)

The Jane Austen Book Club (U.S.) directed by Robin Swicord
Monday September 10th, 2007

I found the book of the same name by writer Karen Joy Fowler to be a major disappointment as a committed Jane-ophile. Too little Austen and too many silly superficial characters I thought. But the film brought me around a little bit. Three middle aged friends with various issues form a book club in which they decide to read all of Austen's oeuvre, six books in all, as a key to improving their relations with men and the world. One member only seems to have intense relationships with the dogs that she breeds (Maria Bello as Jocelyn); another is a serial wife (Kathy Baker as Bernadette); a third is a deceived. somewhat frumpy wife (Amy Brenneman as Syliva) left by her husband (Jimmy Smits) for a smart, attractive lawyer.

To round out the club they invite a frosty French teacher on the cusp of sleeping with her teenage student because she is in a unhappy marriage (Emily Blunt as Prudie), the deceived wife's lesbian daughter (Maggie Grace as Allegra) and, lastly a young sci-fi techie/geek (Hugh Dancy as Grigg) who is enlisted by Jocelyn and appears to join merely because he is in love with Jocelyn .

As one might imagine, each reader identifies greatly with the one of the six books she or he has chosen and the plots of the six books: Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma, seem to reflect the personal dramas of their lives.

The plot is paper thin and predictable ... Grigg and Jocelyn conjoin happily after many fits and starts; Sylvia's husband returns to her and even joins the book club; Prudie and her husband Dean (Marc Blucas) find an understanding together engineered apparently after he is asked to read a snippet of Austen; Bernadette marries yet again; Allegra dumps a writer who is using her for writing material and hooks up with a pretty doctor.

But may I say … I loved the discussions of Austen’s characters which is something I have personally never seen on film. Geek that I am, I wanted more of that but perhaps this is not something that could be filmed to dramatic effect?

The audience was chock a block with female Austen readers and the two women on either side of me asked if I had read the book as they were poised to start them. I didn't have the heart to completely disparage the book and told them at the end of the film that I might give it another try (and I might).

No comments: