Monday, September 11, 2017

Directorial Debut: Jerusha Hess' AUSTENLAND

Welcome to a new installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, where we take a look at some of the most interesting and iconic directors and the films that started their careers. This week, I'll be reviewing Jerusha Hess's AUSTENLAND from 2013

Most that know me know that I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. Well, Austenland seems to be my life story. I've been looking for my Mr. Darcy for a long time. But enough about me, let's get into talking about this fun film.

Keri Russell stars as Jane Haynes, a woman in her thirties who is obsessed with Colin Firth from 1995's Pride and Prejudice. She decides to go to a resort in England that has a Jane Austen theme. It's total chaos from there on. Real life usually doesn't have the same ending as the books we love.

Jerusha Hess has worked on other films with her husband, Jared. Those include Napoleon Dynamite, Gentleman Broncos and Nacho Libre. They co-wrote these films together and Jared directed.  I love Napoleon Dynamite and I didn't know that this husband and wife team co-wrote it. They also wrote  an animated series based off the film. However, Austenland proves that Hess is able to create something glorious on her own. She co-wrote the film's screenplay with Shannon Hale, whose book the film is based on.

One element of this film I thought was funny were some of the characters' names. The main character's name is Jane for obvious reasons. Then there is Elizabeth Charming, played by the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge. She is actually very charming but is so utterly ridiculous. I find it funny that her character never read a Jane Austen novel. Then there is Henry Nobley, who actually turns out to be noble. Their names seem to be a pun on words.

An interesting aspect of this film is that the people attending the resort are separated by class, just like in every Jane Austen novel I've read. The owner of the resort prefers the wealthier clients to Jane. I see many similarities between this film and Pride and Prejudice. I think the dialogue is witty and draws the audience in.

All the actors cast in this film had great onscreen chemistry. One particular scene that exhibited this was the dinner held the first night at the resort. Jane meets the gentlemen of the house, Colonel Andrews and Mr. Henry Nobley. She ends up having an argument with Mr. Nobley that is similar to the one Elizabeth Bennett has with Mr. Darcy upon their first encounter.

I also enjoyed the friendship between Elizabeth Charming and Jane. Elizabeth tries to help Jane stand out at the resort despite the owner, Mrs. Wattlesbrook's attempts to make Jane uncomfortable. It's almost like they're sisters!

This film did receive a negative approval rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't great. I thought the film was enjoyable; however it did succumb to many cliches. The talented cast made this film more enjoyable than it might have been.

I think this film is more of a satire of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice than a true portrayal. If you are fan of Austen, then this is a must see for you.

Lisa's Score: 7/10

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