Saturday, August 31, 2013

Not much fun in this theme park

Austenland seems more like a goofy costume party than a sharply honed comedy.

Austenland takes place mostly in Britain, but the movie wanders all over the place. It tries to be a spoof about the much-read and still-admired novels of Jane Austen, a moony romance and a broadly conceived comedy that just happens to be about an American woman (Keri Russell) who's only definable character trait involves an obsession with what she apparently views as the dreamy side of Austen's work. Director Jerusha Hess co-wrote the script with Shannon Hale, who also wrote the novel on which the movie is based. But judging by the evidence on screen, this duo shortchanges Austen's observational skills, as well as her trenchancy. Russell plays Jane Hayes, a woman who's so enamored of Austen that she keeps a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth (as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 TV mini-series of Austen's Pride and Prejudice) in her bedroom. Jane decides to visit a British resort -- Austenland of the title -- that promises to provide full immersion in an Austen-like world. Once in Britain, Jane meets a buxom but crude American woman (Jennifer Coolige)and begins to interact with the male staff, notably a stuffed-shirt of a man (JJ Field) who seems to have gotten into the full swing of things and a stablehand (Bret McKenzie), a rough-hewn guy who refuses to pretend to be an Austen character. As Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owner of a resort that looks as if it costs a small fortune to maintain, Jane Seymour adds a welcome bit of bite, and Russell can look luminous. But the movie -- which isn't particularly funny -- mostly comes across as a costume party with a shortage of memorable guests.

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