out of Five
Running time: 97
Austenland has some nice ideas and a handful of amusing moments, but the direction and editing are poor, the acting is dodgy in places and the underdeveloped script fails to push any of the right buttons.
What's it all about?
Directed by Napoleon Dynamite co-writer Jerusha Hess, Austenland is adapted from the book by Shannon Hale and produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. Keri Russell stars as Jane, an American Pride and Prejudice obsessive who travels to England to attend Austenland, a Jane Austen theme park where she hopes to find her Mister Darcy.
Since a scripted romance with one of the park's actors is advertised as part of the experience, Jane appears to be on course to get her wish, but she appears disinterested in Darcy-like Nobley (JJ Feild), foppish Colonel Andrews (James Callis) or dashing adventurer East (Ricky Whittle) and instead starts flirting with stable boy Martin (Bret McKenzie, whose Flight of the Conchords partner Jemaine Clement starred in Hess' Gentlemen Broncos). Meanwhile, Jane also runs foul of snobbish Austenland proprietress Mrs Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) and bonds with fellow guests Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge) and Amelia (Georgia King).
Given that so many of the actors are playing bad actors, it's actually rather difficult to judge the performances, but JJ Feild (a Hiddleston-like British actor who deserves a bigger career) is good value as Nobley and Battlestar Galactica's James Callis is very funny as Andrews, while Georgia King steals pretty much every scene she's in as Amelia, which, given that she's sharing most of her scenes with Jennifer Coolidge (rather overdoing her usual sexed-up screen persona), is really saying something. However, Russell (who has perhaps the least expressive eyes in Hollywood) is rather insipid as Jane and fails to spark convincing chemistry with either of her love interests.
To be fair, the concept is appealing and Austenland has a couple of nice ideas, but the underdeveloped script can't quite manage to do anything interesting with them. Similarly, the editing is frequently confusing (especially during the opening scenes – Hess doesn't seem to be able to do montages) and the direction occasionally obscures some of the gags; whatever the joke is supposed to be regarding Georgia King's character at the end of the film, for example, falls completely flat.
On top of that, the film doesn't really capitalise on its most obvious asset (potential Austen parallels beyond the obvious) and there are some annoying details in the script, such as the way Mrs Wattlesbrook treats Jane just because she's only paid for the basic package of the experience (she is, after all, still a paying customer).
The likeable cast ensure that Austenland is never less than watchable but the script should have been both tighter and cleverer and it ultimately fails to deliver much in the way of either romance or comedy.