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Where’s the romance?

Austenland yearns for Mr. Darcy, but fails

By Karen Martin

This article was published September 13, 2013 at 2:24 a.m.

they-aim-to-please-at-austenland-the-fictional-british-theme-resort-for-which-jerusha-hess-new-comedy-takes-its-name-on-the-firing-line-from-left-are-lady-amelia-heartwright-georgia-king-colonel-andrews-james-callis-lady-elizabeth-charming-jennifer-coolidge-martin-bret-mckenzie-and-jane-hayes-keri-russell

They aim to please at Austenland, the fictional British theme resort for which Jerusha Hess’ new comedy takes its name. On the firing line (from left) are: Lady Amelia Heartwright (Georgia King), Colonel Andrews (James Callis), Lady Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), Martin (Bret McKenzie) and Jane Hayes (Keri Russell).

Colonel Andrews (James Callis) and Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) flirt Regency-style in Austenland.

Austenland has some cheery moments of hilarity, weirdness, wit and surprises. But there aren’t nearly enough of them to make a successful comedy - although it so much wants to be just that.

Petite Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), aged 30-ish, is an attractive enough office drone who can’t seem to find Mr. Right. Maybe it’s because of her overly dramatic fascination with author Jane Austen, particularly Austen’s character Mr. Darcy from the novel Pride and Prejudice. It’s not every day a girl will meet someone as attractive and sexy and contrary as Mr. Darcy (particularly the version of him created by Colin Firth in the 1995 TV mini-series of the same name). It also doesn’t help that she decorates her apartment with flowered Regency-era teapots, crocheted doilies, and a full-size cardboard cutout of Firth’s Darcy (guaranteed to discourage would-be suitors). Since reality isn’t delivering the relationship she craves, Jane saves up for a vacation to Austenland, a resort on an English country estate that offers its guests the opportunity to live like characters in Austen’s novels - right down to romance-for-hire (no, not what you’re thinking; just the syrupy compliments-and-longing-gazes part).

Upon Jane’s arrival at Austenland, resort owner Mrs. Wattlesbrook (a shrewish Jane Seymour) casts her in the role of an impoverished poor relation; others who buy higher-priced resort packages, like a blowsy, rich American neophyte assigned the identity of Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge, as bosom-heaving as ever), get to flounce around in frilly Regency-era ball gowns while interacting with a staff of allegedly smitten actors in period attire.

Among those actors is attractive stable hand Martin (Bret McKenzie of the musical duo Flight of the Conchords) and snobby Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild), who’s as close as the resort gets to serving up Mr. Darcy to guests. Jane finds herself at odds immediately with arrogant Nobley, but that stable boy sure is cute. And he really seems interested in her … doesn’t he?

Based on Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel, Austenland is Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s first effort at film producing and screenwriter Jerusha Hess’ directing debut (she’s the wife of Jared Hess of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre fame). It’s a good-natured effort with no hint of bad intent. Russell, who’s terrific in FX’s taut spy series The Americans, holds her own as a character playing a character, as does Feild (who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Paul Reubens) and cute, curly-haired New Zealander McKenzie, who looks great in full-sleeve linen shirts and breeches (maybe we shouldn’t mention the three-corner hat). But Russell’s Jane is stuck with too many pratfalls, overly ornate hairdos, absurd expectations, awkward conversations and predictable outcomes to make Austenland anything more than a mediocre romcom.

Austenland 83 Cast: Keri Russell, Jane Seymour, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, JJ Feild Director: Jerusha Hess Rating: PG-13 for suggestive content Running time: 97 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 09/13/2013

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