Austenland (UK/ USA, 2013)
Directed by Jerusha Hess
Starring Keri Russell, J. J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge
In my review of A Royal Affair, I stated that period drama was "one of the easiest genres to send up, sneer at or actively despise." For every highly acclaimed film or TV series which pops up on our radar, any production which candidly emphasises archaic or impractical forms of language, costume or social custom presents itself all too easily to be ribbed. It is both fitting and ironic that Jane Austen's works have become such a reliable source of parody, given that she herself was parodying the Gothic romances of her day when she wrote the likes of Northanger Abbey.
wrote in The Observer: "what might have made a five-minute skit becomes an extended exercise in taking a joke for a walk round a country house, before allowing it to crap on the terrace and then stamping it to death on the manicured lawn."
Trishna or The Look of Love, for instance), he had a fantastic understanding of how to deconstruct historical values while making very pertinent comments about our present-day ambitions and obsessions. With Austenland, however, the scenes of the actors out of costume give us just a teasing, fleeting glimpse of the better film we could be seeing, as though we were peering through a letterbox from within our 19th-century prison.
Legally Blonde) gives one of two impressions; either that director Jerusha Hess didn’t really know what she wanted, or that she was unable to direct her with sufficient skill, allowing her star to go painfully off-piste just as Johnny Depp had done with Pirates of the Caribbean. Coolidge, like Nicolas Cage before her, has a tendency to become grating and over-the-top when not properly reined in, and while she has her moments here, she could have been so much better.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, writers do not always make natural directors, often because they fail to marry visual storytelling to their beloved dialogue and stage directions. The screenplay for Austenland may not be the greatest ever written, but in the hands of another director the film that resulted could have looked a lot less inept.
Stardust and Still Alice. Even without the weak script or the uncertain direction, this film has little sense about its sensibility.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and funnier than anything farted out by the Wayans stable. But it offers far too little return for one’s time, for fans of Jane Austen and those new to period drama, and it will take a great deal of persuasion to warrant a re-watch any time soon.
NEXT REVIEW: Minions (2015)