Movie Review for The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

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Review #535 of 365
Movie Review of The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) [PG-13] 106 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.50
Where Viewed: Landmark Mayan, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 24 September 2007
Time: 7:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 5 February 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Robin Swicord (The Red Coat)
Screenplay by : Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha) based on the book, The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Maria Bello (Flicka) • Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) • Kathy Baker (All the King's Men) • Amy Brenneman ("Judging Amy") • Maggie Grace ("LOST") • Jimmy Smits ("The West Wing") • Ed Brigadier (The Oh in Ohio) • Kevin Zegers (Zoom) • Marc Blucas (Thr3e) • Hugh Dancy (Evening)

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Click to read the spoiler points for The Jane Austen Book Club
See Cast Photos from the Premiere.
One day, while walking expeditiously through the neighborhood Barnes & Noble, a book title shouted out just enough to reach my peripheral vision. "The Jane Austen Book Club," it read as if aloud. My fingers reached for the book instinctively, though the back of my mind knew all too well the policy -- never read the book before seeing the movie. The fingers retracted leaving the book on the shelf. And, now, never has seeing a movie made me want to read a book more, for the film version of The Jane Austen Book Club is an absolute treasure and cinematic delicacy of writing and acting wit. With a certain understated pretense, the idea hooks you and reels one in like a rainbow trout who can sort of work out the probable result of this encounter but no longer get away even if he wants to.

"…from best-seller to one of the best films of the year."
The brilliance of author Karen Joy Fowler's premise is that a group of women, all devotees of Jane Austen's six novels, would come together once a month to lead a discussion of the one novel they had just read or re-read as the case may be, and therein rejuvenate and revel in the prowess of not just Ms Austen's romantic look on life through her exquisite prose but in effect channel her wisdom as it might guide and inspire their own present-day lives. So goes the film's plot with screenplay and direction by Robin Swicord who also adapted Memoirs of a Geisha for the screen. Beyond that, how true the film is to the book is not known by this writer who, as of yet, has still not had the opportunity to read the book. All he knows for certain, is that his impressions of the book have not been ruined and the film has been allowed to be fairly, therefore, judged.

The cast of characters includes:
• Jocelyn (Maria Bello)—a forty-something, single, champion dog breeder.
• Prudie (Emily Blunt)—a high school French teacher who's grown somewhat tired of her husband, Dean (Marc Blucas) as he prefers basketball games to her company.
• Bernadette (Kathy Baker)—the elder stateswoman of the group, she's been married six times and plans for a seventh before she goes.
• Sylvia (Amy Brenneman)—a devoted mother and long, self-sacrificing wife, her husband, Daniel (Jimmy Smits) has just confessed an affair and plan for their divorce.
• Allegra (Maggie Grace)—the daughter of Sylvia and Daniel, she's a avid adventurer whose love for women is accepted by all.

That makes for a book club of five when there are six novels to cover. So, Jocelyn, who matched up Sylvia and Daniel in the first place, invites a lonely sci-fi writer, the much younger, Grigg (Hugh Dancy) to join the group hoping that he will suit her fancy. Grigg has never read Jane Austen, and comes only because, actually, he fancies Jocelyn. They all arrive at a local coffee shop to plan out their club and pick their books. Grigg shows up with one book containing the complete works of Jane Austen and immediately shows off his naïveté by confessing he thought they might be sequels to be read in a particular order. As the only guy in the group, and an Austen neophyte, he starts off way, way behind the eight-ball in gaining both the group's favor and acceptance. He helps out by inadvertently picking Northanger Abbey as his book to present which was nobody else's first choice.

As the months pass and the books are read, the lives of the group's members become entangled with each other as they do with Jane Austen's characters. There is a vicarious sense of diversion in each noting the possibilities and dead ends faced in the pursuit of true love in Austen's time. The clever ways in which the Austen themes are blended purposefully into the story lines of each character seems crafty at first. As each character's life evolves, however, one is driven to turn the page and delight in what happens next. There is a certain predictability to it all, but there is also restraint--probably just as Jane Austen would have wanted it had she been able to advise this project herself.

Written and directed by a woman, from a book written by a woman about a group of mostly women who gather to read one of the world's most influential and greatest femal writers, would seem like everything would be aligned for this film to be loved mostly by women. Would it be the Holy Grail of 'chick-flicks'? Probably. Yet, just as the men in the film discover the amazing power of Jane Austen, sometimes directly and sometimes more indirectly, nonetheless, the film should command a strong spell over men in the audience as well. Though many have never read and only seen Jane Austen's books adapted for film in exchange for some slack in having the guys over for a football game party, they might certainly all become inspired to pull out the collected works just as Grigg did and start seeing Jane Austen for her true worth as an observer of human nature as it becomes hopelessly involved in the curious chambers of the heart. With warmth, humor, and much understanding of both genders, the film captivated, inspired uproarious laughter, and warmed the hearts in and of all those present in this early screening of this absolutely outstanding film.

While largely an ensemble cast, each actor brought her or his own very unique blend of special touches to the roles. Maria Bellow brings the strength and independence of a woman who has given up her loves to others such that they might find true happiness. Emily Blunt endows Prudie with European authority on manners, sense, and sensibility while fully embracing the deep sadness and burning desire ignited by her younger student, Trey (Kevin Zegers) who looks at her like, "He is the spoon…" and "…she it the ice cream." Kathy Baker never ceases to amaze as she brings fortitude combined with maternal instincts to her characters, she's the Hillary Rodham Clinton of the actresses today. Judging Amy's Amy Brenneman gets to have a bit of 'fun' here playing the type of woman so many women perceive themselves to be. Eventually, her Sylvia has to realize that there's no prize at the end of a lifetime for the person who has sacrificed herself entirely for her family. In fact, there may even be a slam in face instead. Maggie Grace struggles a bit with her character in trying to figure out exactly where she is. She doesn't seem as authentic as the other members of the cast, perhaps because she was not able to distinguish juvenile pouting from the depth of real emotions she needed to make Allegra sing. Hugh Dancy, who is having a banner year of working with phenomenal actresses in films that help men to better understand women, after his turn in Evening, demonstrates a far greater range than he's shown before. Here he grows his character on multiple levels as he must carefully navigate the Austen waters. He has to gain credibility in the group, as well as in the cast, and both of these made his role one of the most challenging to portray. What's most surprising about the whole thing though, is how wonderfully funny the film is. Comedic writers need to see this film and figure out how with no one getting hit with sharp objects to private parts of the body, with no body part references or stereotypes or gas discharges, with no one on drugs or under the influence of alcohol, somehow, this film is so complete funny. It's purely situational humor. It's like Seinfeld, except this story is about something, something great. Truly, there's very little negative that can be said about the film. Even the ending surpasses expectations. No one can know for sure, but with what little I do know, I would be willing to wager that Ms Austen would have been delighted thoroughly by this film. The Jane Austen Book Club has gone from best-seller to one of the best films of the year.

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
Cast Members
Maria BelloEmily BluntKathy Baker
Amy BrennemanMaggie GraceJimmy Smits
Ed BrigadierKevin ZegersMarc Blucas
Hugh Dancy
Robin Swicord
Robin Swicord
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) [max of 150 words]
An absolute surefire hit, The Jane Austen Book Club written and directed by Robin Swicord from Karen Joy Fowler's novel, is simply sensational. With terrific leading performances by Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, and Hugh Dancy, the film weaves and entangles the lives of the principle characters with the themes of the Jane Austen novels each has been assigned to read and present to the club members. Wonderfully humorous, the story, with neither pride nor prejudice, evokes all we need for proper sense and sensibility as the characters navigate the complex needs of their hearts and ours. Who better to guide than the grand dame of women's literature, the world's best student and author of love long lost and then reclaimed, Ms Jane Austen?

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GD said...

I thought about checking this out, but I figured one Jane Austen movie (Becoming Jane) was enough for me in a calendar year!

scooter thompson said...

totally different films, not to worry about over-dosing on Jane.