I read Austenland a couple of years after I became an Austen fan. I reread it in 2011 and really enjoyed it much more the second time around. I read Shannon Hale's blog, and when she first posted about Austenland becoming a film, I was really excited. My excitement only grew with all of the behind-the-scenes peeks that came later. But unfortunately the film was in limited release and the closest theater to me was about three hours away, so I didn't get to see it in theaters.
I usually don't buy new release movies that I haven't seen in theaters. They're just so expensive, and I don't want to take the chance of spending $20 on a movie that I might not like. But with Austenland, I really, really wanted to see it and didn't want to wait until I could get it through Netflix. So I bought it, wondering whether I would regret it or not.
I watched Austenland last night, and oh my goodness, I absolutely loved it. :)
I honestly think I had a goofy grin on my face the entire time I was watching this film, from the first few moments (Keri Russell as a teenage Jane, wearing braces and drinking from a teacup) to the swoon-worthy ending. Seriously, it was just so much fun. I didn't want to pause it for any reason, and I could hardly bring myself to knit during it because I didn't want to look away. And as soon as it was over, I wanted to immediately watch it again. It was late, so I didn't, but I'll admit that I'm planning on watching Austenland at least two more times this week (and because of Valentine's Day, I will feel no shame in consoling myself with homemade chocolate chip cookies and repeated viewings of this movie :).
It wasn't the most faithful book-to-film adaptation, but that didn't really bother me. The important things are still there, as is the general spirit of the book. Plus, Shannon Hale (the author) also co-wrote the screenplay and was an associate producer, so I feel like if she was okay with the changes, I can't really fuss about them too much.
The cast was really awesome. Keri Russell is such a sweet, long-suffering Jane. Even though she comes across as a bit wishy-washy at times (between the two guys she likes), she is so likable. I felt so bad for her when she was treated as inferior to the other guests because she had bought the least expensive trip package! The only thing that bugged me was that she spent her life savings on the trip to Austenland, instead of it being left to her by a great-aunt who hopes it will get the Austen obsession out of Jane's system (that's how it happened in the book). That made Jane seem a little too frivolous. Jennifer Coolidge was hilarious as Elizabeth Charming, a wealthy fellow guest who frequently shouts "Tally ho!" in an awful fake British accent, doesn't even know what Pride and Prejudice is, and who is mostly there for the attractive men. :) While she is the source of a lot of the crass humor in the film, I loved the more subtle parts. Like when she's embroidering and stitches her glove to her work, or when they're decorating hats and (I believe) the other girls are using needle and thread, but she's using a hot glue gun to attach feathers and such. :) The other guest, Lady Amelia, is played by Georgia King. Here, she is hilariously different from the other very mild roles I'd seen her in so far: in the Jane Eyre mini-series and Little Dorrit.
As for the male characters...I don't want to spoil anything. But I knew the ending and thought I would be predisposed to dislike the guy who ends up being a jerk (and let me say, he appears to be even more of a scumbag in the movie than he was in the book!), but I sort of fell for his charms just like Jane did. So I can't blame her. :) Both of the male leads are really handsome: the chauffeur/gardener/stable man/servant in general, Martin, and the Mr. Darcy type, Mr. Henry Nobley. But goodness...JJ Feild! Be still my heart! :) He has the most wonderful voice, and he did an amazing job of pulling off the seemingly arrogant and reserved, but still kind and respectful type. Now I really need to watch Northanger Abbey again (in which he plays another charming Henry: Mr. Tilney).
Austenland is so over-the-top and while it spoofs Jane Austen and the Regency era, it does so in such a loving way. You get the feeling that all of the people involved were having so much fun with it. There are beautiful settings and costumes that look familiar from other period dramas. (And with good reason. The house where it was filmed has been in quite a few period drama films and mini-series, and I think JJ Feild actually wears some of the clothes that Colin Firth wore in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.) But it's a bit brighter and cheesier and more modern, and not quite accurate, because of course the whole story is about modern people pretending to be in the Regency era.
You know how some lesser-known (should I call them independent?) movies tend to have a certain look and feel? It's hard to explain, but there's a charm about them. They're not glossy or perfect, but they feel so homey and bright and quirky. Penelope is a good example, and that's also true of this movie. I love that.
I'm not saying that this movie is going to be every Austen fan's cup of tea (if you'll pardon the pun :). It's not a gentle, authentic Regency film. It's cheesy and silly and awkward, but it's just ridiculously fun! I would have preferred for some of the humor to be wittier, but I can't deny that I laughed a lot during this movie. And for me, personally, it hit (almost) all of the right notes and became an instant favorite.
My only qualm with the film is that there are suggestive comments scattered throughout. It's rated PG-13, for "some suggestive content and innuendo." There are only two, maybe three at the most, swear words in the movie, but there are quite a few crass lines. Honestly, I think some of them went over my head (ha, I can be pretty naïve for a nearly twenty-three year old :), but there was still too many for my taste. Obviously it wasn't enough to overshadow my affection for the film, but the movie would have been pretty much perfect without the coarse innuendo.
So yeah, I loved Austenland so much more than I expected to. If you're an Austen fan, I recommend at least checking it out...you might be pleasantly surprised. :) It really is a hilarious romantic comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously, as well as a sweet tribute to those of us who dream of our own Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, or whoever your favorite Austen hero is. I can't wait to watch it again.
Have you seen Austenland, or are you looking forward to seeing it? What did you think?