Oh Mr. Darcy. He’s certainly the most popular period drama hero, and not just the ones from Jane Austen’s imagination, mind you. Even those who don’t care for this genre would probably know who Mr. Darcy is, though they might confuse him with the one in Bridget Jones’ Diary, ahah. Now, he’s not exactly my favorite Austen hero, but I find stories about girls being obsessed with him so wildly amusing. I saw the miniseries Lost in Austen not too long ago and it might as well be called Lost in Darcy. Despite the similar theme, Austenland is not a fantastical tale where the characters from Pride & Prejudice actually comes to life. The title refers to a Disneyland of sort for the Austen-obsessed, as the ad says, the resort in a lush English countryside offers the world’s only immersive Jane Austen experience.
Keri Russell plays Jane Hayes, an Austen superfan whose obsession with Mr. Darcy practically takes over her day-to-day life. Her apartment rivals even the Austen museum I went to in Bath, complete with a cardboard cutout of Mr. Darcy in her living room. Her love life suffers not for lack of suitors, but it’s just the modern guys just can’t possibly live up to a dashing literary hero. I always remember the quote from the Sabrina remake of 1995: Illusions are dangerous people, they have no flaws. Thus, when an opportunity suddenly presents itself for Jane to actually live out her fantasy, naturally she jumps at the chance.
Hilarity ensues almost straight away. From the moment Jane steps out in her empire-waisted dress and bonnet her best friend gifted her just for the occasion, she draws giggles and stares as she makes her way through the airport. Then she meets a wealthy American woman (later known as Elizabeth Charming, her pseudonym at the resort) who apparently never read Austen but signs up for the trip because she knows she’d look good in those ‘wench dresses.’ Both girls are so in for a treat, or so it seems. No more ‘unlucky in love’, the owner of the Regency era resort (a bitchy Jane Seymour) promises her vacationing guests that their romantic fantasies would come true at the end of their trip, courtesy of the handsome actors on her staff.
Sadly, Jane (or Miss Erstwhile, her given pseudonym at the resort), has unknowingly bought the Copper package, even though she’s cashed out all her savings for this trip! So poor Jane gets the dowdy clothes and her room is in the servants wing. But she’s determined not to let that ruin her trip. In no time, Jane gets entangled with one of the staff-members Martin, who actually wasn’t hired to do the ‘oldies’ stuff, that is to pretend to be from the Austen era to woo the guests. But just as she’s fallen for Martin, the resort’s designated Mr. Darcy (aptly named Henry Nobly) provides a delightful distraction. Everyone is not who they say they are, and the characters are caught between fantasy and reality. Just like what you’d expect in a real Austen story, there are misunderstandings, romantic disenchantments, and of course, the vice of preconceived notions. But hilarity is never far behind. I love how hysterical this movie is, there’s thigh-slapping moments from start to finish and I could tell the whole theater was having a blast along with me.
Jerusha Hess, who’s no stranger to writing comedies (Napoleon Dynamite, Gentleman’s Bronchos and Nacho Libre), tackled the writing and directing task for this one. She co-wrote this film with Shannon Hale, who wrote the novel of the same name where this movie is based on. I think they did a fine job in delivering an amusing escapism, funny without being mean-spirited. There’s a lot of laughs to be had here, but romance is still in the air and the cast is quite charming. I think the tone is more Emma than Sense & Sensibility, so by no means it’s not a deep movie nor is it trying to be.
I don’t normally see Keri Russell in a comedic role, but ever since Waitress, I knew she has a decent comic timing. Here she portrays the awkward and starry-eyed protagonist believably, even if she might be too pretty in the role, just as Keira Knightley was as Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005’s Joe Wright’s adaptation. One thing for sure she’s instantly likable, so it was easy to root for her character, no matter how absurd.
Jennifer Coolidge is her usual hilarious bawdy self. Her blatant ignorance of anything Austen (or the Regency era for that matter) and her riotous attempt at a British accent never fails to draw uproarious laughter. She’s a natural comic actress who doesn’t even need to open her mouth to be funny, so of course she steals scenes in more than one occasions. James Callis (who’ll always be Battlestar Galactica‘s Gaius Balthar to me) provides comic relief as the flamboyant Col. Andrews who’s the object of Coolidge’s Elizabeth Charming’s affections. Hunky Ricky Whittle and fellow Brit Georgia King also provide memorable supporting turns in some of the funniest bits of the movie.
JJ Feild, once an Austen hero himself in Northanger Abbey, is suitably sullen as Mr. Nobly. He provides a nice contrast to the more outwardly flirtatious Martin (the Mr. Wickham in the story). I’m surprised to learn that Bret McKenzie who played Martin is the same guy who plays the elf Lindir in The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, AND he’s also the songwriter who won an Oscar for Best Song for The Muppets! Wow, no wonder he looked familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it where I had seen him!
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one, it’s perhaps one of the most fun I had at the movies of late. I also appreciate the scenery and gorgeous set pieces/costumes. I don’t even mind the mindless slapstick stuff, especially in the farcical mock-theater scene towards the end. There are some cringe-worthy moments and use of vintage pop songs don’t always work well, but it’s hard not to be swept away by its buoyant spirits. The romance might be predictable, but it’s certainly not without its giddy charm. Certainly period drama fans would get a kick out of this movie, but even if you’re not, I’d say there’s enough going for it here to keep you amused and entertained.
36 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Austenland”
I hate to say this but I feel so pathetically ignorant and uneducated when it comes to Austen. That said this looks like something I might really like. Great review Ruth.
Hi Keith! Hey, I hear ya, I don’t think my hubby would be either if it weren’t for my constant rewatching of Austen movies, ahah. This one is worth checking out, it’s actually a relatively ‘clean’ comedy too, no foul language or bathroom humor for a change!
I love good comedies but they all follow the same formula these days. Perhaps that’s why this one really caught my attention. It looks unique and sounds pretty funny.
Well perhaps because this was written, directed and produced by women 😉 I like comedies that aren’t mean-spirited and goofy. Even though it’s poking fun at the Austen-obsessed but it’s also done as an homage to those people, so I don’t think even die-hard fans would be offended. A lot of comedies these days are full of foul humor!
I’ve never heard of this movie before your review here Ruth, of course you know I’m not into period drama movies. But I’ve became a fan of Kerri Russell after her excellent performance on the show The Americans, a great show where she plays a Russian spy living as an American. I might give this one a rent someday.
Hi Ted! I think even if you’re not a period drama fan, you might still find it funny as it’s more of a spoof of the genre. Keri is just so likable, I didn’t realize she’s in The Americans. I should check that out when it’s out on Netflix!
I saw the trailer for this recently and thought it looked hilarious. Glad to know it lives up. I’m hoping to catch this one!
Hi David, long time no see 😀 Thankfully it’s as hilarious as the trailer, to me anyways, comedies are so subjective. I certainly don’t mind seeing it again!
Ya know, I’m not really familiar with many of the other actors in this comedy, but the trailer looked whimsical and fun. It’s one that, being a fan of Pride & Prejudice, I was curious about. Looked fun.
I like Keri Russell as the voice of Wonder Woman in one of the DC animated films.
Thanks for this review, Ruth. I will be passing it on to my sister who will appreciate it for sure.
Hello T! Oh I don’t think you have to be familiar w/ the actors to enjoy this one. I had no idea who Bret McKenzie was either but it turns out he was in Flights of the Conchords, LOTR and The Muppets! Keri Russell is lovely, I think you’ll enjoy seeing her here, though Jennifer Coolidge is so darn hilarious. I hope your sister gets to see this and enjoy it as much as I did! Oh, it’s nice to see a relatively ‘clean’ comedy too for a change, no foul language in the entire movie, apart from some suggestive jokes of course but not crude like in We’re The Millers, etc.
Considering i’m not a big period drama/Austen person this one was never really on my radar.
Ok, but now that it is are you interested?
I may rent it
Glad to hear it Julian, hope u enjoy it!
I hadn’t heard of this one, I may enjoy it though seeing as I’m something of an Austen fan!
Hi James! If you’re an Austen fan I reckon you’d get a kick out of this one. It’s a spoof and an homage in one, and I find it hilarious!
Apart from seeing you talk about this one, Ruth, I haven’t seen much about it. I feel like not knowing much about Austen I would probably miss out on quite a lot of the jokes and stuff. I still wouldn’t mind checking it out though, looks interesting.
Hi Chris! I talk about this one a lot on Twitter don’t I, ahah. Well I really enjoyed it, I laughed a whole lot more than in The World’s End. I don’t think you’d miss out on the jokes, I mean if you know who Darcy is then the rest of the jokes are quite universal I think. Worth checking out for sure!
I enjoyed the book version of this story quite a bit. Glad to know the film is worthy of a watch!
Hi Lindsey! I’d be curious to hear what you think since you’ve read the book. I find it to be a fun romp, delightful escapist entertainment for fans of period dramas 😉
I will probably do a post on it for my Book vs. Film series when I get around to watching the film. 🙂 I love period films and fluffy rom-coms so it should be right up my alley!
Oh that’d be awesome! Please do send me the link when you have it up as I love stuff like that. This should be right up your alley Lindsey, plus there are tons of eye candy 😉
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This sounds great to me. I love the Austen world but I don’t mind a good send-up and it’s always interesting when someone’s fantasy meets their reality. Thanks Ruth!
Hi Paula! If there were a real Austenland i’d so go in a heartbeat, ahah. Esp if JJ Feild played Mr Darcy 😉
I think I’ll love seeing this, the setting and story seems interesting. Thanks for sharing this. I never saw Kerri Russell too after Waitress, I think. She’s quite good, I guess.
I have a feelingyou’ll like this one Andina! Keri is just so likable n sweet, but the supporting cast are also awesome! Oh n i think you’ll enjoy the costumes n scenery too!
I love keri russell, she’s one of JJ Abrams pet actors … who knows, maybe she’ll pop up in Star Wars VII? I’m not familiar with Jane Austen so any of the references would be lost on me, but it still sounds like its worth watching on home video.
Oh that could happen yeah. It’s ok ifu’re not too familiar with Austen, i think you’d still get the humor. It’s such a hilarious n fun movie!
Yeah, I expected this to have some problems, but it does look fun. I’ll definitely check it out.
It IS a lot of fun, Josh, hope you like it as much as I did.
Thought I’d check this out since I just saw it as well. I basically agree. It isn’t perfect, but it is fun. 🙂
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