Who doesn’t want her very own Mr. Darcy to sweep her off her feet, caress her in his arms and tell her that she’s his princess? In my eyes, it is a rare woman who doesn’t require the approval of a man in order to feel like a princess. A woman is a whole person capable of loving herself unconditionally rather than seeking validation from someone else.
In “Austenland,” Jane (Keri Russell, “Dark Skies”) is a devoted member of the contrary — the more populace portion of women who values men more than they value themselves. She worships Jane Austen’s body of work. She has memorized the first three chapters of “Pride and Prejudice,” kisses a cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth daily and totes around a bag with “I heart Darcy” in big, bold letters. But these aspects of her obsession pale in comparison to the accumulation of fairy-tale garb that consumes every inch of her bedroom.
Shunning the wise advice of her best friend, who is firmly grounded in reality, Jane drops a ton of dough and immerses herself in the ultimate Jane Austen experience, an amusement park-like setting straight out of her beloved author’s fiction. But, of course, the experience disillusions Jane who grows overwhelmed by a confusing dichotomy of veracity and fantasy.
The film fulfills an audience’s insatiable need for guilty pleasures with a silly storyline so far-fetched that the movie finds a way to get the green light from a producer (Stephenie Meyer of “Twilight” fame); the film scratches the itch for this niche and, though it doesn’t make sense, it’ll make some dollars. It’s an entirely implausible scenario that drags on and on with predictable beats and trite tropes. The humor falls flat, whether it’s cheesy dialogue by Jerusha Hess, a somewhat seasoned writer but first-time director, or awkward timing by the actors.
The performances satisfy, but only just. Jennifer Coolidge (“American Reunion”) plays Jane’s Austenland buddy, her stereotypical role as the flighty floozy-slash-sidekick, and it’s overkill. To its credit, the film presents a few memorable moments, like when Jane plays a version of rapper Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” on the piano to the strong dismay of Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour, “Freeloaders”), the curt, uppity owner of the wacky world.
“Austenland” is a starkly hyperbolic display of the unavoidable and, at times, unbreakable attachment to fantasy. It’s a film that supports my belief that, speaking from experience, some women desire the perfect partner so desperately that they lose themselves in the process. Sometimes, you gotta live to learn.
(Spoiler alert) But the saccharine and fantastical nature of the film dilutes the message when Jane ends up with her own version of “Mr. Darcy” anyway. I spoil because, as pathetic as it sounds, a self-help book would be more helpful than this movie — maybe cheaper, too.