Sunday, 26 February 2012

“The Jane Austen Book Club” on DVD. A Review Of The 2007 Movie Now Released On DVD.

"…Never Underestimate The Power Of A Well-Written Letter…"

It's November 2007 (released on DVD 17 March 2008) and I've just come back from an early evening showing of this film in our nearby multiplex on a wet and windy Saturday night in London. My mate and I were looking for something uplifting and light and decided on this. No one else did. We were the lone two in the cinema - literally. I suspect that's because "The Jane Austen Book Club" has received 3-star reviews almost everywhere - which is a damn shame - because it's so much better than that - and we both thought so.

Here's the basic story: Six women of different ages and sexual persuasions form a book club to discuss something that unites and excites them all - Jane Austen's six period-piece novels. One will be tackled and talked about every month in the club in a different location. There's "Pride & Prejudice", "Sense & Sensibility", "Emma", "Northanger Abbey", " Mansfield Park" and "Persuasion". The actresses are Amy Brennaman (who is married to and having trouble with Jimmy Smits), Emily Blunt (who is a married teacher lusting after an 18-year hunky student, while she gets nothing mentally or physically from her basic guy of a husband and mad hippy mum), Kathy Baker (the oldest in the group, who has been married six times and is happily looking for husband number seven), Maggie Grace who's Amy Brennaman's daughter and a lesbian in love with a manipulative writer - and finally Maria Bello - who loves dogs more than almost anything - including men.

The Writer/Director Robin Swicord has sculpted their lives to mirror Austen's plots and as some reviewers have pointed out, these bits are a little too pat for comfort. But that doesn't stop the dialogue from being repeatedly touching and amazingly on the pulse of how love is in the complicated and confusing 2000s. There are rare insights here and beautifully observed snippets of life too (taking a tip from a device Austen uses in her books - dialogue by Kathy Baker's character titles this review).

The actresses as you can imagine (given great material) are uniformly superb also - especially Emily Blunt - who looks ravishing every time the camera is pointed at her - a huge star in the making if ever there was one. Maria Bello is her usual classy self, bringing real gravitas and warmth to her character, who has to do the most 'growing' and Amy Brennaman adds a real earthiness to what would have been a little too frothy a crew. Maggie Grace is both lovely and sexy as the passionate and headstrong daughter. The warmth and sheer class of Kathy Baker combined with a brilliantly nutty fruitcake turn by Lynn Redgrave only add icing to an already fantastic ensemble cake.

Then come the men who are excellent choices both as actors and eye-candy. The hugely likeable Hugh Dancy plays the hapless Grigg who fancies Maria Bello's character Jocelyn - but she only wants to pair him off with Amy Brennaman's character Sylvia. Sylvia is too much in love with/and hurt by her now parted/cheating husband Jimmy Smits to notice anyone. Jimmy Smits is excellent and so likeable - it's easy to see why Robin Swicord wanted to work with him. Emily Blunt's prim and proper Prudie is driven by her need to be neat, ordered and have everything just so - but she is wild inside for forbidden fruit - licking her rather delicious lips at the heartthrob that is Trey played by Kevin Zegers ("...he looks at me like he's the spoon...and I'm a dish of ice cream..."). But the unfolding surprise is Marc Blucas as Blunt's husband Dean - his performance is clever - he seems like a sap at first trapped in a marriage he no longer understands - but his growth back to his wife is beautifully handled and convincing.

And then of course there's 'that' writer - the gorgeous Jane Austen - who generation-after-generation takes every heart by storm. Hearing each of Austen's novels discussed and critiqued and then hearing extracts from some of them only makes you want to run out and instantly buy all six - then go on a Jane-bender yourself.

"The Jane Austen Book Club" is not quite a rom-com - nor a full-on girly fest - it's much better than that. Like Austen's writing - it's properly romantic and wordy-delicious - and you want to return to it again and again. More importantly - you can't help but feel that real heart, belief and joy went into the making of this 'little film' and all concerned had a total blast doing it.

"The Jane Austen Book Club" is that rarest of things in Hollywood these days - a movie that gives you both romance and heart - and doesn't get cloying on either. Personally I think it's a bit of an unsung masterpiece. Ignore the so-so reviews and give it a whirl...

PS: There now follows extracts from my all new 2007 in-the-real-world kickass street version of "Pride & Prejudice" - coming to a multiplex near you - just in time for Oscars 2008 next year.
Mister Darcy (played by a bald Bruce Willis) has just emerged from the lake all clingy and wet and unable to control his ardor no more.
He pulls Miss Bennett (played by Sharon Stone in a ludicrously tight rubber bodice) to his chest in a saucy-fellow Errol Flynn kind of way.
There is a longing in his visage and it isn't for English tea and muffins.
There is something in his eye and it isn't engine-oil or grit.

(Looking down at her heaving bosoms)
Oh Miss Bennett!

(Looking down at something else that's heaving)
Oh Mister Darcy! What is ‘that' in your soggy breaches?
(She now looks away to Pemberley's six hundred bedrooms - suddenly acquires a glint in her eye)
Let's go back to your place!!

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