Sunday, September 15, 2013

Movie Review - Austenland

Based on the book by Shannon Hale
Release Date: August 16th, 2013
Starring: Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart and Jane Seymour
Rating: ★★★★★
To See

This weekend is the start of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, not that I'm jealous I'm stuck at home and my friend Marie gets to go (damn you Marie, revenge will be mine!) But this does provide me with the opportunity to see Austenland (haha Marie, revenge is sweet!) Austenland and I have had a rocky road. As you may have noticed before, I adore the books of Shannon Hale, heck, I'm even excited about that Ever After High book which is based on a Mattel franchise, and me being a 35 year old I'm not the target market, but hey, books are for everyone. I've been lucky enough to meet Shannon twice, once while she was promoting Book of a Thousand Days, and the second time when she was promoting Calamity Jack. In fact, the first time I met her I was so nervous because I wanted to give her a print of my artwork that I did based on vintage Jane Austen book illustrations, but I couldn't work up the nerve till the second time I met her. It was fortuitous in that she was pregnant with twins at the time, which turned out to be two girls, and the print I ended up giving her was with Jane and Lizzie from Pride and Prejudice... but anyway, I digress. Back to Austenland and our contretemps. The first time I read the book it was all right book wrong time and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was like a dissatisfied cat. Luckily my aforementioned Jane Austen partaking of Bath awesomeness friend Marie kind of pushed me a little to read it again. Her nudge along with the fact a sequel was coming out made me read the book again and truly appreciate it.

Austenland is about a plain Jane with Darcy dreams who gets to go to a themed resort in England (and confront her addiction) but really, who wouldn't want to go to there? Austenland and Midnight in Austenland are both fun reads and should be embraced if just for the fact they're subtly thumbing their noses at the Jane Austen Mafia, aka JASNA (I have no doubt the people who run this organization are those who Austen would mercilessly parody in her books if she were still around.) When I heard about the movie being in the works... well, all that needed to be said was James Callis and I was counting down the days till I could see it. Mind you, this is before the cameras were even rolling. Once J.J. Feild joined, I knew I was a goner. Ah J.J., you made me come to love Northanger Abbey. You and you alone, ok, and the fact it's an awesome book making fun of the Gothic Genre... but really, it was you. Marie and I had planned on seeing this movie for our August birthday fun time, seeing as Madison has a Sundance theater and it was opening three days after my birthday and ten days after Marie's we thought we were in with a chance... sadly though it wasn't to be. So I have been counting down the days and finally, FINALLY, the wait is over. Of course Marie is in real "Austenland" and I will be in virtual "Austenland"... but at least it's all about Jane. And thankfully, this movie lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

If Clueless and Bridget Jones's Diary combined and was then handed off to Monty Python to do some patter writing, Austenland is about what you'd end up with in a near perfect movie that might just be the best film I've seen in years, and easily the hardest I've laughed in a long time. With the entire script being a goldmine of hilarious quotes, James Callis and Jennifer Coolidge might have come out a little bit ahead in the awesome category. In particular Jennifer Coolidge's Miss Charming's facial beautification routine... we were already quoting it on the way to the bar after the movie. My advice is don't listen to those stupid reviewers over on Rotten Tomatoes, listen to me, GO SEE THIS FILM RIGHT THIS SECOND and take me with you! Each person I went to wanted to see it again, so what are you waiting for? There is just so much going on with background jokes, foreground jokes, James Callis never being silent, I need to see it over and over just to make sure I haven't missed a thing. At least I did spot Shannon in the ball scene!

Let me break it down for you as to why this movie is just full of win. Firstly, perfect casting. At first I was a little, Keri Russell, ok, she's fine, she's not as important as her two love interests in the form of J.J. and Bret 'Flight of the Conchords' McKenzie, but I underestimated her. Keri is able to not only be the perfect surrogate, for me, the Austen loving audience member, but the chemistry with both the male leads makes for a believable and funny love triangle. But if it wasn't for the fact that every character was cast perfectly and every actor and actress seemed to be having so much fun, the three leads would not have been able to sustain the funny. Add to that little jokes just for the actors, like Bret and his Hobbit/LOTRs connection, and layers upon layers of jokes that drives a serious need to see it again, I mean in the flashback Keri seriously had her old Felicity hair. Jennifer Coolidge was, as I have previously said, divine, and I really think that even back when I was reading the book, well, the role has always been hers. James Callis, what can I say, but I've always admired you, Bridget Jones, Battlestar, you made me want "evil" to win... you have some serious comedic talents, so while I love you in period pieces, do more movies like this! And there's just little things that make each scene perfect, the way Georgia King "secretly" skips out of a room, or Ricky Whittle finds yet another way to strip off his clothing... I couldn't stop laughing. But I must say, the casting of Mr. Wattlesbrook was by far the best. Because Mr. Wattlesbrook, aka Rupert Vansittart, aka Fatty Fat Buckle, is none other then Mr. Hurst from the 1995 Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice! Say what? Yes, and it really is just like in P and P when all he did was lay on a couch, giving him the nickname of Fatty Fat Buckle to me and my friends.

Now I must mention the sets. Oh dear lord, they were awesome. I mean, they were so over the top crammed with British kitsch and porcelain, it was optic overload, but it so fit the gaudy opulence of the resort that Mrs. Wattlesbrook was running. Can we have more floral wallpaper? YES PLEASE! Then there are the animals... or lack therefore of live animals, well, except those horses... whoever thought that it would be a good idea to replace every animal with a stuffed dead one, I'm talking, stroke of genius. It added a whole weird, incongruous, Monty Pythonesque humor to it that culminated in the shout out to the creepy taxidermist at the ball. And as a final aside, the house is gorgeous, but the fact that it is the historic seat of the Dashwood family, not Austen, but Hellfire... in that this house in West Wycombe is where the Hellfire Club comes from! The fact that a place of male debauchery has been repurposed for female debauchery... it just gives me a smile, and a great guffaw when reading the locations in the credits when I first realized it.

Speaking of the credits. I'm not going to ruin them for anyone, but seriously, stay for them. If the credits had been used as the marketing campaign, I think everyone would be rushing to the theatre right now. They take what would have been a scene derivative of Lost in Austen, which was sadly eliminated from the DVD because they couldn't get the rights to the song "Downtown," and takes it to whole new heights that have more then a little nod to Flight of the Conchords. And while I'm on the subject of music... well, the movie is full of cheesy wonderfulness that just works so perfectly that I wish the soundtrack included everything from "Lady in Red" to "Betty Davis Eyes!"

As for the movies flaws... I would say that there would only be two, and they fall into the necessary but unnecessarily creepy category. First is the cruelty of Jane's co-worker ex at the beginning of the movie and the fact that Fatty Fat Buckle is just a little too rapey. The first was her impetus to finally go to Austenland, which I get, but did he have to be so boorish? Just slightly demeaning, or even having him just break her teacup would have worked. As for Mr. Wattlesbrook... well, it's like he is in the book, and it is needed to question the motives of the love interests at the end, but, he was just a little too forceful and left a sour taste in my mouth. Just tone down those two scenes and, perfection would be attained. In other words, these two things are the only reason it's near perfect... oh, these and that should would get ride of that dollhouse! Sin! In fact, speaking of sins, I've been prattling on too long, why are you still reading this? You should go and see the movie already, it's make or break weekend!


Agreed. Don't wait for the translation, go see it now!

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