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The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 67%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,607
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Explores Austen's adage that general incivility is at love's essence. Sylvia's husband dumps her for another woman, so Bernadette and Jocelyn organize a book club to distract her. They recruit Sylvia's daughter Allegra; Prudie, a young teacher whose marriage may be on the rocks; and Grigg, a sci-fi fan who joins out of attraction to Jocelyn. The six read and discuss one Austen novel per month. Jocelyn tries to interest Grigg in Sylvia; Allegra falls in love with a woman she meets skydiving; Prudie contemplates an affair with a student; Sylvia's ex keeps popping up. In the discussions, characters reveal themselves in their comments. By the end, are truths universally acknowledged? --IMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 06, 2007
There is enough estrogen in "The Jane Austen Book Club" to give every single player in the NFL eleven pairs of breasts. To say this film is the ultimate 'chick flick' would be an understatement. This film was created for the sole purpose of attracting romantic middle agers who want constant re-assurance that there is love waiting for them out there some where. This film was designed to give them hope, even though the chances of their finding the kind of happiness found in this film are slim to none, most likely the latter. "The Jane Austen Book Club" is the sappiest, cutesiest, most ridiculously absurd romantic comedy I have ever seen, featuring some of the most clichéd and stock writing I have ever heard and text book performances from a fine crop of actresses. This is the film your jock boyfriend is always dreading you're going to take him to see. However, despite all of the sentimentality and the 'heart on the sleeve' antics, the film is not unwatchable. There is a brief time when I found myself enjoying the film. Then it would go back to being just another chick flick.

The film centers around six characters whose lives bring them all together as part of The Jane Austen Book Club. Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has been divorced six times and works as an aerobics instructor; Jocelyn (Maria Bello) has never been married, lives alone and breeds dogs; Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) is getting divorced from Daniel (Jimmy Smits), taking it hard and is very sensitive about it; Allegra (Maggie Grace) is Sylvia's daughter, a lesbian, who loves extreme sports; Prudie (Emily Blunt) is a French teacher who has never been to France and is unhappy in her marriage to Dean (Marc Blucas); and then there's Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who meets Jocelyn randomly and is invited to join the book club with the hopes he might fall for Sylvia. Turns out he's got his eyes on Jocelyn, and tries to convince her to read his favorite science fiction novels. The film chronicles the lives of the club over the course of six months, as they tear through all of Jane Austen's most celebrated works. Each month brings some new trauma or some new heartbreak, and each month finds the members of the group one step closer to a new level of happiness.

The film suffers more immediately from inadequate writing. Robin Swicord wrote and directed the film, but her writing here is so clichéd and so unoriginal. I know she revised it from the novel, but could we not get anything better than this? It's difficult enough to believe in all the coincidental similarities between the lives of these people and the novels of Jane Austen, but it is even more difficult to accept some of the set-ups - the lesbian daughter who falls for the girl who's just using her for material; the young teacher who falls for her younger student (Kevin Zegers); the recently separated husband and wife who still love each other and eventually realize it. Come on. I have seen these scenarios a million times and they never seem fresh. The most interesting storyline in the whole film was between Maria Bello and Hugh Dancy, and I wanted more of that. And let me also state that I loathe Jane Austen's writing. Maybe I shouldn't have gone into a film named after a writer I consider overrated, but I thought the material might pull it through. Jane Austen had no clue as to how relationships really worked, which I guess is why women respond to her so well. Austen wrote as a romantic, not a realist. She might have been sensible, but sometimes she was just being the most sensible in a situation of extreme absurdity. "The Jane Austen Book Club" wants everything in relationships to end up neat and tidy, and that is not how the world works.

For a romantic comedy, the cast is top notch. Highlights include Emily Blunt as Prudie, whose mother (Lynn Redgrave) has pretty much ruined her entire life; Hugh Dancy as Grigg, the adorable biker who warms his way into the club and eventually finds he has a lot to contribute; and Maggie Grace, doing the best she can with one of the worst written roles in the film. It was also nice to see the underused, underrated Nancy Travis in a film again, even though her role just came and went like a bolt of lightning. The males in the film - Marc Blucas, Kevin Zegers, Jimmy Smits - are pretty much all disposable and don't really offer anything other than foils for their women folk. But, I will say that Kevin Zegers and Hugh Dancy gave me more than enough eye candy to make up for a lot of problems I had with their performances, and their relationships in the film. "The Jane Austen Book Club" is just too romantic and too idealistic for me. I wanted to see at least some minor scenes of pain and despair that weren't treated like comedy. I wanted to see a little genuine heart break. No one weeps on screen quite like Amy Brenneman, who has made a habit out of it, but not even she tugged on my heart strings. She played it like Charlie Chaplin might have. I wanted to invest in these characters more, and they never gave me the chance.

First off, let me clue you in to how rare it is for me to willingly watch a romantic comedy. It was around 11:45 PM and I didn't have anything to do and I was bored, so I sped over to the local theatre and caught the midnight screening of "The Jane Austen Book Club". I knew the general plot of the film, but that was it. I knew little else, which is sometimes a good thing. What I found was a film that tried way too hard to be the next big chick flick. It wants to be "Steel Magnolias". It wants to be "The First Wives Club". Luckily for the film, the pedigree of the performers does take it a step above most of its other clones. However, if you're going to make a movie about a group of women who meet every month to read Jane Austen and you're going to model the entire film around Jane Austen and her stories - at least have the decency to let your characters hold discussions that don't seem like they were given by people who had only seen the films and never read the books. And how many scenes do we need showing them reading? We get it. That's what the film is about so we don't need the constant reminders. "The Jane Austen Book Club" was not a bad film, but it did remind me of why some women will never stop living in a dream world.

6/10.
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