×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Austenland

Like Shannon Hale's cleverly conceived chick-lit novel, in which a diehard Janeite dreams of Regency Era courtship at an English literary theme park, this genial adaptation by "Napoleon Dynamite" co-writer Jerusha Hess lightly amuses.

With:
Jane Hayes - Keri Russell
Mr. Henry Nobley - JJ Feild
Martin - Bret McKenzie
Miss Elizabeth Charming - Jennifer Coolidge
Col. Andrews - James Callis
Lady Amelia Heartwright - Georgia King
Mr. Wattlesbrook - Rupert Vansittart
Cap. George East - Ricky Whittle
Mrs. Wattlesbrook - Jane Seymour

Genial “Austenland” stars Keri Russell as a die-hard Janeite who hopes her real-world-incompatible dreams of Regency Era courtship will come true at the titular English literary theme park. Adaptation of young adult writer Shannon Hale’s cleverly conceived first grown-up chick-lit novel likewise lightly amuses, though those hoping for refined wit more in line with the original prose lioness’s creations may be taken aback by the generally broad humor here. Jerusha Hess’ directorial bow will thus require marketing finesse, but as one of this year’s most clearly commercial Sundance entries, the pic should attract buyers in various territories and formats.

Thirtysomething Jane Hayes (Russell) is introduced via a brief history of her romantic involvements, an uninspiring saga not helped by her distracting adoration of all things Austen — in particular the Mr. Darcy played by Colin Firth in that most beloved BBC “Pride and Prejudice” mini. (His lifesize cardboard cutout in her bedroom goes unappreciated by amorous boyfriends.) She decides to spend her savings on an expensive vacation at the role-play resort presided over by the imperious Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), who promises each guest will experience “romance with one of the actors,” albeit of a strictly chaste early-19th-century British upper-class variety.

Upon arriving, however, Jane discovers she’s only purchased the “basic” package (rather than “platinum premium”). As a result, her temporary alter ego, Miss Erstwhile, is “an orphan of no fortune,” tolerated in polite society but at the bottom of the marriageable totem pole even in this “fully immersive” costume party. She quickly susses the Mr. Darcy equivalent, Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild), is intended to partner gibbering blonde “Amelia Heartwright” (Georgia King), while cheerfully vulgar Yank guest “Elizabeth Charming” (Jennifer Coolidge) is set up with the suspiciously camp Col. Andrews (James Callis).

So our heroine has little to do but tag along at group activities and gravitates instead toward off-script moments with stableboy Martin (Bret McKenzie), who seems equally disillusioned by the general charade but genuinely interested in her. However, Nobley’s slow-burning attentions create a triangle, and make it increasingly hard for Jane to distinguish between honest emotions and paid theatrical ones.

En route to a pat wish-fulfillment ending, the director (hitherto co-writer on husband Jared’s projects, including “Napoleon Dynamite”) and thesps do a good job maintaining that ambiguity. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Feild gives first-class Darcy under any character name. But nearly everything else here is pretty blunt, from Miss Charming’s galumphing malapropisms (Coolidge is fun as usual but has certainly had better material) to the arrival of a bodice-ripper-type Queen’s Navy stud (perpetually abs-baring Ricky Whittle) and a particularly juvenile debacle of an al fresco stage performance.

Thus, “Austenland” doesn’t really satirize Austen’s world (or fans) so much as use them as a pretext for a mixture of middling burlesque and routine romantic comedy. That it remains watchable is a testament to brisk pacing, a game cast, numerous throwaway chuckles (the intended big laughs tend to miss), a good-natured air and nice visual packaging. Production values present just the right attractive yet slightly garish, pandering vision of the past you’d get if a Regency estate were designed by Laura Ashley.

Austenland

U.S.-U.K.

Production: A Moxie Pictures and Fickle Fish Films production. (International sales: Fickle Fish, Mesa, AZ) Produced by Stephenie Meyer, Gina Mingacci. Executive producers, Dan Levinson, Robert Fernandez. Co-producer, Jane Hooks. Directed by Jerusha Hess. Screenplay, Hess, Shannon Hale, based on the novel by Hale.

Crew: Camera (color), Larry Smith; editor, Nick Fenton; music, Ilan Eshkeri; music supervisor, Ian Neil; production designer, James Merifield; art director, Patrick Rolfe; set decorator, Jacqueline Abrahams; costume designer, Annie Hardinge; sound (Dolby Digital), Tim Barker; supervising sound editor, Barker; first assistant director, Jake Ravenscroft; casting, Michelle Guish, Courtney Bright, Nicole Daniels. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 97 MIN.

Cast: Jane Hayes - Keri Russell
Mr. Henry Nobley - JJ Feild
Martin - Bret McKenzie
Miss Elizabeth Charming - Jennifer Coolidge
Col. Andrews - James Callis
Lady Amelia Heartwright - Georgia King
Mr. Wattlesbrook - Rupert Vansittart
Cap. George East - Ricky Whittle
Mrs. Wattlesbrook - Jane Seymour

More Scene

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 2019

    Gwyneth Paltrow Honored at amfAR Gala

    Gwyneth Paltrow received one of this year’s courage awards at amfAR’s annual gala on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Paltrow’s longtime friends Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos presented her with the award. “I didn’t prepare anything because I don’t think I really believe in thank you speeches, but I did want to thank amfAR for this,” [...]

  • Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag

    Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag: Sneak Peek

    While there are only so many cover honorees, everyone will go home a star this Power of Women Los Angeles. Each guest will receive a large Shopping Tote provided by The Little Market, and screen-printed by Homeboy Industries. Item inclusion ranges from product in entertainment, beauty, health, fashion, and more. Missed your chance to attend? [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content