Austenland, a well-intended 19th century-style romantic comedy that’s been adapted from Shannon Hale’s novel of the same name, marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Jerusha Hess. While it’s handsomely filmed, making good use of the stunning British countryside and landscapes, and features some gorgeous costumes, there’s little else, substance or otherwise, to entice audiences, let alone to truly reward those who do choose to invest their time and attention.
Jane (Keri Russell) possesses an unhealthy obsession with Jane Austen, specifically her classic novel Pride & Prejudice. Desperate to immerse herself in that world, Jane spends her life savings on a trip to a retreat for Austen lovers in rural England. Once there, Jane and her fellow guests – Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge) and Amelia (Georgia King) – engage in 19th century-style activities, and her dreams of meeting her ideal man become more realistic.
What unspools over the course of a brief, yet decidedly tiresome run time is a cutesy romantic comedy that ultimately fails to capture the audiences hearts and minds. Known for her writing credits on Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, Hess attempts to achieve the same balance between the ridiculous and the charming here, but unfortunately doesn’t quite nail it, resulting in a wholly inconsistent and irksome tone.
It’s never that all engaging either. The lessons Jane learns from her trip can be seen a mile off, and what happens in between seems to have been haphazardly thrown into the mix in an a desperate attempt to back up the stupidly with some heart and spirit. Yet with no coherent structure or ultimate intent anywhere to be seen, all this seems redundant. There are though, at best, a few moments of comedy scattered around here and there, but nothing that raises more than a smirk.
Plaudits, however, must be awarded to Russell, who does her best to anchor the film with the help of an on-form Bret McKenzie as her one of her two love interests (the other being the dashing Mr. Henry Nobley, played by an arguably one-note JJ Feild). The problem is, their efforts are compromised by aggravating performances from both Coolidge and King. Sadly, it’s the erratic and inconsequentiality of it all that renders Austenland a merely harmless debut effort.