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Movie review: ‘Austenland’

Posted 4:42pm on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013

PG-13 (suggestive content, innuendo); 97 min.

Keri Russell, she of Felicity, Waitress and many others, is such a winning actress that, even in a flat soda of a comedy like Austenland, she’s in there, doing all she can to carbonate things.

Against type, she plays the insecure 30-something Jane, an utter freak for all things Jane Austen. Her “I HEART MR. DARCY” T-shirt says it all.

Rashly, she blows her savings on a getaway English vacation with a difference: The resort she chooses, run by a fearsome witch played by Jane Seymour, is a Club Med for the frills-and-bonnets set, designed to ravish the senses and satisfy the literary fantasies of female Austen fans from all over, allowing the guests to dress the part. And maybe to find love with one of the hunky actors playing stableboys and the like.

Austenland comes from the novel by Shannon Hale, and Hale adapted it along with director Jerusha Hess (co-writer on Napoleon Dynamite). It should’ve worked better, given Hess’ generous attitude toward her ensemble and her noble efforts to spread the comic wealth around.

Perhaps it would’ve taken someone on the order of Emma Thompson at the keyboard to simultaneously honor and gently deride the Austen mystique in a fresh way. The movie that did get made feels tentative — all too attuned to the blandly easygoing protagonist.

Russell radiates good sense and solid grounding, and here she’s playing a paradoxical flighty obsessive of no special spark. As filmed, half of Austenland is too broad, and the other half sits quietly in the corner.

And then what happens? At the end, as with so many adequately made comedies of recent years, there’s a choreographed dance routine featuring all the major players as the credits roll. It’s charming. Maybe Austenland should’ve been a musical.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano

— Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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