Austenland Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie. Directed by Jerusha Hess. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Actual Jane Austen fans might feel insulted by Austenland, a romantic comedy that treats them with the same level of respect William Shatner afforded to Trekkies on SNL back in 1986 (“Get a life!”). Austen devotee Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) makes a pilgrimage to the title location, allegedly to experience the world depicted by her favorite author, but there’s little more than a superficial resemblance to Austen’s actual work.
Instead it’s mostly about the sweet but awkward Jane attempting to find a paramour to equal Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. In typical rom-com fashion, she ends up torn between a standoffish Darcy type (JJ Feild) and a more down-to-earth Austenland staffer (Bret McKenzie). Director and co-writer Jerusha Hess (working from Shannon Hale’s novel) brings in cartoonish touches familiar from her work on husband Jared’s films (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre), and Jennifer Coolidge and Georgia King give broad, obnoxious performances as Jane’s fellow Austenland guests.
Russell may be charming, but it’s hard to find anything resembling authentic emotion in Austenland, which wallows in lame slapstick and lazy jokes about desperate, deluded women. There’s a lot of potential in exploring the modern impact of Austen’s work and the sometimes misguided tendency to romanticize the past, but Austenland barely engages with any of that. Austen herself would probably find the movie tacky and contrived. Best to stick to the real thing.