I am so happy in my friends, as to count several Janeites among them; and it was one of these who charitably conveyed me to an advance screening of the film Austenland last evening. We were conscious of appearing well, of being surrounded by a numerous acquaintance, and of living in every expectation of present enjoyment, and future satisfaction; so much so, that the term guilty pleasure only thrice passed our lips.
Seriously. We had a great time.
Yes, the movie has received only 3 out of 10 tomatoes on Rotten Tomatoes; it has been girlishly and gigglingly reviewed on NPR, panned outright by the New York Times--but if you've ever signed up enthusiastically for a Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting, specifically for the hat-trimming, dance-training, or dressmaking breakout sessions; or if you're one of the founding members of the official Colin Firth online fanclub, Austenland is not a bad way to pass a couple of hours.
Make no mistake: This is not a Heritage Adapation of one of the Divine Jane's Sacred Works. We all have our favorites among those perennial staples of BBC funding, and Austenland will never be in the running for the most passionate arguments true Janeites know: Henry Tilney or John Knightley? Frederick Wentworth or Fitzwilliam Darcy? Colin Firth, or any other actor who attempts to fill his...um...?
What Austenland does explore is the unfortunate gap between fantasy and reality, between the desire to enter the pages of Pride and Prejudice, and the actual tedium of finding oneself eternally in a role that has no foundation in emotion or personal history. It follows a young woman, Jane Hayes (the ingenuous and charming Carrie Russell) as she spends her life savings to return to Regency England on a great estate tricked out with period actors, intentionally conspiring to provide a romantic episode for her life. Yes, there are slapstick moments--several of her colleagues deliberately lampoon the conventions of Regency dramas--and some of the humor is broad. Austenland is a spoof on terminal fandom, and some of us may have suffered the malady enough to find it amusing or painful. But at base, the film offers a glimpse of a woman discovering that fakes--even beautifully clothed in an idyllic landscape--are no substitute for the real thing. And that is a journey most of us will recognize.
As an author myself, I abhor spoilers. Without disclosing the ending, therefore, I will say only that I found it a clever inversion of both the film's concept, and the expectation of most Janeites. Guilty pleasure? Why not. It won't kill you. It might even make you laugh. Go see Austenland.