Love them or hate them, there are countless Jane Austen spin-offs. This month’s release of the movie Austenland adds yet another to the menagerie. Although the film (PG-13 for innuendo) offers some interesting observations about reality, fantasy, and the ascendancy of manners, devout Austen fans will have a hard time getting past its bawdy humor and tawdry aura.
Based on Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel of the same name, the film stars Keri Russell as a doe-eyed Austen fanatic named Jane Hayes. Hayes compares every boyfriend to Mr. Darcy and squanders her life savings on a fantasy vacation complete with period costumes, role-playing actors, and historic buildings at an English resort named Austenland that caters entirely to women.
Guests are guaranteed to find their “perfect mate” by vacation’s end, but it’s all one big game of make-believe. Despite an abundance of crass flirtation, there’s really no lasting love to be found. Most of the women who are frequent guests at Austenland seem content with this garish imitation of regency romance, but Jane Hayes isn’t.
Jane discovers after flying halfway around the world that she’s tired of pretending: she wants to love and be loved by a real person. She appears to find him during the course of her stay, only to realize her perception of reality has been entirely skewed. Meanwhile, she nearly misses her heart’s true love because she thinks his gentlemanly manners, which stand in stark contrast to the other characters’ vulgarity, are too good to be true.
Viewers see the folly of pursuing fantasies at the expense of reality and the importance of manners and sexual restraint, but director Jerusha Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) leans too heavily on suggestive humor and a weak plot.