Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Austenland
Austenland is a romantic comedy that opened in limited release last summer. That's not the right genre for a limited release, but it opened at about the $10,000 mark on the per theater chart and lasted long enough to hit $2 million at the box office. That's a better than expected run. Is the movie also better than expected? Or does it fall prey to the usual romcom clichés?
Keri Russell stars as Jane Hayes, a woman obsessed with Jane Austen. After a couple of bad romantic relationships, she decides to do something big. She decides to go to Austenland, a theme vacation where actors help the person live out their own Jane Austen inspired fantasy. At first, her friend, Molly, tries to talk her out of it, because it would cost her life savings. But in the end she gives this vacation her blessing, because she thinks it will be a huge letdown and as a result, Jane will finally get over her Jane Austen addiction.
Upon arriving in England, Jane meets Miss Elizabeth Charming, who is also going to Austenland, but not because she is obsessed with the author. She thinks her boobs will look fantastic in one of the dresses they wear. Austenland is run by Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who is a stickler for maintaining the correct atmosphere for Austenland, which means no modern conveniences, like cells phones. She also points out that Jane has just the basic Copper package, while everyone else took the much, much more expensive Platinum Elite, so she will be excluded from some of the activities. All of them will be romanced by one of the actors there, but in proper Jane Austen fashion, there is no touching.
After getting into their costumes, the pair are driven to the main estate house. Elizabeth is shown her Platinum Elite room, while Jane is led to her Copper quarters. At dinner, they meet the other guest, Lady Amelia Heartwright, who unintentionally insults Jane by bringing up her age and the lack of husband and child. She also meets some of the actors who will play the suitors and none of them are her Mr. Darcy. It's a bad start. Fortunately, Elizabeth turns out to be a good friend and after a couple more troubling incidents, she helps Jane turn her vacation around. Will Jane take control? Will she find her Mr. Darcy?
Austenland is a romantic comedy, so it should come as no surprise that it isn't an entirely unique experience. There are more than a few clichés in this movie. However, the film does a good job at playing with the standard clichés and having some fun with them. For instance, near the end of the movie, there's a scene where Jane is at the airport ready to return to America and someone, I won't say who, runs to the airport to meet her before she goes. It is a scene we've seen a hundred times in romantic comedies, but there are a couple of twists here that keeps the really elevates the scene. The ending, on the other hand, really does retreat into cliché. There are a few scenes that lag in the middle of the movie, and the movie really should have hit the satire harder, but for the most part, it was a fun film. I certainly liked many of the performances. You can always count on Jennifer Coolidge to give her part energy and she generated the most laughs, but Keri Russell was also great in the lead.
Extras on the DVD includes a commentary with director, Jerusha Hess, and Stephenie Meyer, who was one of the producers. There is also a 33-minute Q&A session with the cast of the film. That's not a lot in terms of numbers, but better than most limited releases get in terms of substance.
I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but it costs about $5 or 25% more than the DVD. That's a good deal for this type of release.
Austenland doesn't quite do enough with its premise and maybe if it were a little sharper with the satire it would have been a great movie. However, it is funny enough and charming enough that it works as a romantic comedy and fans of the genre and the cast should check it out. There are not a ton of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, but for some it will be worth picking up over just renting.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2014-02-09