“… fantasy is not practice for what is real—fantasy is the opiate of women.” —Shannon Hale, Austenland
When it comes to being a Jane Austen dork there are many different levels of said dorkiness: moderate, extreme, and uber-extreme (like, please proceed with caution). And in Jerusha Hess’ (known for writing Napolean Dynamite, Nacho Libre) new comedy Austenland, you arrive at the sanctuary that IS the land of Jane Austen, aka “the world’s only immersive Austen experience”. Except for that it’s just a bunch of actors and actresses dressed up in Regency-era attire paid to entertain the ladies that do come through, for whatever reason they decide to escape from modern day life.
And on the uber extreme Jane Austen dork level, you have Jane (Keri Russell), a 30 year-old single gal who just can’t get over that darn BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (she has a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy standing tall in her apartment.) And this would all seem normal for, say, a sixteen year-old girl. But for Jane, who has been putting away her savings for this trip since forever, she is destined to find romance in the superfluous Austenland by purchasing a “dreamy” vacation package—because not just anyone can replace the beloved Mr. Darcy!
When Jane arrives and realizes she has purchased one of the lower-level packages, her experience is degraded by the Austenland showrunner Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) compared to the other guests, who purchased the “platinum” package. Luckily from the get-go she is paired with the famously funny Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming, who makes her experiences a little more lighthearted (and let’s be honest, absolutely hilarious.)
Each woman who arrives at Austenland is promised a Mr. Darcy of their very own via enticing games of croquet and shooting hunting guns. And when Jane unexpectedly falls for one of the house “slaves” Martin (the very good-looking Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords), she is thoroughly convinced their connection is the real thing. However, her initial love interest upon her arrival, the very Mr. Darcy-like character in the house Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild), comes off as cold and pretentious, leaving her disinterested and chasing after Martin.
The movie bounces back from this dreamland created by the charming ambiance and Jane’s true desire for love. After reading a lot of other reviews online I was disappointed to hear lot of critics didn’t think the film was that funny, or found it too “confusing”, because it’s really not that confusing at all; everyone in the theater had a lot of good laughs (OK maybe SOME jokes were a bit cheesy, but this is Austenland; the whole thing is cheesy.) Either way, don’t go into this movie expecting Jane Austen book references left and right; this is a story about a 30 year-old who is so caught up in fairytale love that she blows thousands of dollars in hopes to find romance at a theme park—which, yes, is very sad (and hilarious!).
(photo via USA Today)