Monday, August 19, 2013
I truly abhorred the asinine comedy "Austenland," about a Regency Era English resort catering to American women who swoon over "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice" and crave "an immersive Austen experience."
Women like Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), whose apartment is a shrine to Mr. Darcy and who blows her life savings on the cheapo package that lands her in the servants' quarters at Austenland. The place is run by a nasty and rapacious woman named Mrs. Wattlesbrook (a truly thankless role for poor Jane Seymour), who piles indignities on Jane, her paying guest, for no apparent reason. Jane makes friends at Heathrow - they just happen to run into each other - with her wealthy fellow guest Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge), who's been assigned the pseudonym Miss Charming while Jane's stuck with Miss Erstwhile. The game Coolidge can be very funny in the right context, but here, given a vulgar and dumb American, she has nothing to do but pitch her line readings three levels above everyone else's.
In that, she's symptomatic of director Jerusha Hess's tone-deafness for comedy. In several scenes in "Austenland," Hess sets off two or three different comic firecrackers: a cringe-inducing malaprop, delivered by Coolidge to the rafters; a piece of puerile physical comedy (an arrow to the eye socket, say); and a tender moment between Jane and her assigned escort, Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild), during a bird hunt interrupted by a profane reference to a "big cock." The effect is exponentially unfunny, and on at least one occasion I noticed my jaw had begun to drop. Russell has a sweet face but lacks silver-screen star quality; she's perfect for television. Feild is so bland and milquetoast that sparks never fly. Only Bret McKenzie brings Jane - and the movie - occasionally to life as Martin, the stablehand, who's not supposed to consort with the clientele but, of course, does.