THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

Robin Swicord’s delightful romantic comedy proves that you don’t have to be female or a male homosexual to enjoy the work of Jane Austen. As if there were any doubt. The film concerns the exploits of a small group of casual acquaintances and friends who bond over the literature of, perhaps, the greatest and most insightful female author of all time. Jocelyn (Maria Bello) is a dog-breeder (and collector) who can’t sustain a human relationship (romantic, that is) and loves setting up others on dates. Prudie Drummond (Emily Blunt) is a high school French teacher whose husband (Marc Blucas) is about to go on a long trip to San Antonio in lieu of their romantic/business trip to Paris (neither has ever been). Bernadette (Kathy Baker) is a serial bride, marrying man after man, always in search of love. Sylvia Avila (Amy Brenneman) is about to separate from her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) because he’s been seeing someone. Their lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace, formerly from TV’s “Lost”) has been searching for romance in all the wrong places, and loves taking risks. As a breath of fresh air, the group decides they could use a book club devote to the Austen canon to get over their personal problems. A welcome diversion, if you will. Jocelyn, at a breeder’s convention, meets Grigg (Hugh Dancy), an intriguing young tech supporter/software magnate who seems to have a lot of money and not know what to do with it. Thinking he might be a good fit for Sylvia’s recently broken heart, she invites him to join the club. He takes this as a sign that Jocelyn likes him, which on some level is probably true. One by one, a month at a time, they will whisk through the works of Jane Austen, from “Emma” (the inspiration for “Clueless”) to “Northanger Abbey” (Austen’s first book, published posthumously), from “Persuasion” to “Mansfield Park,” and (of course) “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice.” Like clockwork, the plot developments (and their lives) begin to lightly mirror things from Austen’s world. The film was written and directed by Robin Swicord (“Practical Magic,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and is based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler. As a romantic comedy, it’s pretty predictable and pleasant enough. As a tribute to Austen fans and a primer for potential future fans, it is delightful and invaluable. The cast is nice to look at and listen to, and the characters are not dopes stuck in a sitcom, but actually literate and intelligent people stuck in the unfortunate position of human life – and all its romantic foibles. And I liked that Grigg, Daniel and even the husband played by Blucas prove to be better than they first appear. This is not a “chick flick” per say, but a film for both sexes to enjoy.

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