Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club: The Movie Review

While I didn't read the book (as is the case with most "chick" flicks, e.g. The Devil Wears Prada), I needed a happy fix, and so I went to see The Jane Austen Book Club last night. I liked it. It was well acted and well-cast. I especially enjoyed watching one of favorite Anglo pretty boys, Hugh Dancy (from the HBO Elizabeth movies) as an American Silicon valley tech geek. Watching a pretty man act the bumbling, awkward, love-starved geek is refreshing. Why are they always British though? Even without the accent, you can tell that he was going for Hugh Grant (who gives me the creeps as he ages). It's as if the only time the juxtaposition of beautiful but awkward, intelligent but inept works is when it's coming from an Englishman.

I loved the uptight marvel that is Emily Blunt (again, frigid beauty works best with the Brits), and the sassy but warm Maria Bello (a Yank thing), and the rawly vulnerable Amy Brenneman. There should have been more Lynn Redgrave as the 70 year old pothead hippie mother. Kathy Baker was appropriately the aging boomer maven. The rest, I could have done without, namely the token male presence of Jimmy Smits and the 20-ish young woman in the movies that I just never identify with (Maggie Grace).

So I liked it, but can't really tell if the movie matches the book. Maybe I would read it, if my light "genre" reading weren't reserved to sci fi/fantasy novels recommended by TC.
Supposedly, that in forming this book club to discuss the novels of Jane Austen and emotionally support each other through various hellish states, the women (and the token man) find that their relationships mirror those in Austen's books. I didn't really see this. Perhaps it's the pitfall of film, but the movie was so absorbed with advancing the stories surrounding its characters that the actual time discussing the books and characters was very little. The book club scenes existed to show dramatic tension between the characters. Passing references to how one character identified with Fanny Price or Charlotte Lucas, but it's not like any of them really said or lived any relationship that could be said to resemble one in any of Austen's novels. Perhaps the book does a better job of this. Perhaps I'm missing something. Do they think of Austen's books as a way to conduct their own personal lives in the novel? If so, that is really bad. I would never think of Austen as a how-to guide for finding happiness in love. It cheers me up, but it's not exactly instructive. Actually, this whole "What Would Jane Do" pathology in recent pop culture is really weird and frightening.

At any rate, supposedly all of romantic comedy is based on "chick lit, which owes its existence to Regency era novels of comedy and manners by Austen, etc. I don't like the segregation of literature to "masculine" or "feminine," and it should be entirely up to the reader what they will do with their time. As of now, I'm reading (in my abundant spare time, 20 minutes before bed) "A Game Of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin; "A Way in the World" by V.S. Naipaul; and re-reading "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen. I usually have a book for the train, one for conscious awake-time, and an easy one right before bed. This in addition to my law-related reading, which of course takes precedence, and might be more satisfying than a WWJD kind of book.

I get frustrated with fluffy reading. "Fun" reading I love--I love the mysteries of Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie, the swashbuckling of Perez-Reverte and H. Rider Haggard, and I'm getting into sci fi/fantasy. But I dislike feel-good reading, that Oprah-esque neat end-tying and redemption, where everyone ends up partnered up or glowing with the saving grace of self-importance. Fluffiness is for pancakes. I do not equate fluffy with feminine--fluffy to me would also be reading "masculine" emo books like "Indecision" by Ben Kunkel (I never did get through it, it was so self-involved that I couldn't get beyond the first few chapters); or books by Jonathan Safran Foer--which I have read, feeling vaguely dissatisfied and undernourished after doing so.

In case you are wondering if I ever watch anything other than Austen-based movies, I will say that last night's other feel-good option was 3:10 to Yuma.