The Jane Austen Book Club, Robin Swicord, director, 2007
PITCH: PBS has run all six of the Austen novels in dramatic form. Karen Joy Fowler’s book upon which the movie is based is a best seller. Can Hollywood risk making a film for an adult audience about women, for women, based on books by a woman with strong women characters? What next, a woman president”? A female movie reviewer?
STORY: Five women and one guy start a book club dedicated to the works of Jane Austen. As each struggles with their respective issues–loneliness, divorce, marriage, unhappiness–reality intertwines with fantasy and their lives play out like episodes from various Austen stories. Jimmy Smits is a cheating husband, who, even after he dumps his wife, shows he might be worth redemption. Maria Bello is her best friend more interested in breeding dogs, man’s best friend, than meeting men
HOOK: Show the complexities of modern life that encourage readers to escape into Jane Austen’s world where, ironically, they learn lessons that apply to their situations today.
JOHN: Many movies make you wish you were reading something instead, but this hip, funny, intelligent, full of surprises film actually shows people enriching their lives by enjoying and discussing books. The only (ahem) male member of the book group (a computer geek measuring high on the Hugh Grant scale) is a masterstroke. He not only brings the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the novels–helpful for viewers who aren’t, i.e., husbands trying to be sensitive–but challenges Austen fans as to why they don’t read SF authors, such as Ursula LeGuin. Some of the parallels with the books’ heroines are a bit forced (but thankfully no time is wasted reenacting excerpts), the characters themselves seem aware of the film’s literary construct and the heartwarming ending, like Jane Austen’s works, wraps things up a little too tidily. But Emily Blunt’s hair is absolutely mesmerizing
GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four)
SPANKY: As a member of a book club myself (we only read books about animals, except those featuring cats) I enjoyed the discussion sessions where one person upstages another, revealing more about themselves than about the book. Now make an Austen film with an all dog cast (Pride and Pedigree, Scents and Sensibility, for example) and you’d really have something to howl about.
“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four)
KEEPER: “High school is never over!”