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Sundance '13 Review: AUSTENLAND

Director: Jerusha Hess

Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale

Cast: Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, JJ Feild, James Callis, Georgia King, and Jane Seymour.

Official Synopsis: Jane’s life-size paper doll of Mr. Darcy and her “I Love Darcy” tote may be tattered, but even in her thirties, she hasn’t grown out of her obsession with all things Jane Austen. Careworn by love, she saves enough to fulfill her dream of stepping into Austen’s world and heads to Austenland for an “immersive” vacation to eschew all things modern. And it couldn’t be more perfect. There’s an imposing manor with verdant grounds for afternoon promenades, rosy-faced servants, trusty steeds for hunting expeditions, gilded drawing rooms for evenings spent in polite conversation, and, yes, gallant young suitors. Unfortunately, due to limited funds, she’s relegated to lesser quarters and drearier costumes than fellow bachelorette guests, but her cares melt away as she catches the eye of a young footman, and she’s swept into a romantic adventure she could never have imagined.

Performances

Keri Russell is extremely likable as the Pride and Prejudice obsessed Jane Hayes, but doesn't really start to shine until after the obligatory makeover montage.

The supporting cast all does a fantastic job, possibly due to the fact that many of them have played very similar roles before. Jennifer Coolidge once again proves that she is the master of playing an American who completely butchers the English accent - something she famously did on an episode of Friends. Bret McKenzie puts his Flight of The Conchords musical skills to use in some memorable scenes. And JJ Feild is also in familiar territory as Henry Nobely, the resident Mr. Darcy of the themed vacation house - he played something of a version of this similarly named character (Henry Tilney) in 2007's television adaptation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Coolidge has to go deep into the ridiculous and annoying to earn laughs, but she scores some of the biggest audience reactions. But it's James Callis (Battlestar Galacica) who goes nearly unrecognizable, and steals just about every scene he's in as the flamboyant Colonel Andrews. 

The film's possible breakout star however is Feild. His character is a tricky one and gets more layered as the film goes on. He effortlessly weaves through brooding and charming and looks like a cross between Michael Fassbender and Tom Hiddleston and has the same potential to breakout as they have - he's even got a Marvel film under his belt with Captain America.

Story and Direction 

Based on Shannon Hale's novel, and adapted for the screen by Hess and Hale, Austenland is a cute comedy with an interesting premise. Mixing role playing actors and real lovelorn women can, as the movie states, "become a complicated thing," but it keeps your interest and keeps you laughing - even though the predictable twists don't always keep you guessing. 

Jerusha Hess co-wrote films like Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre with her husband, director Jared Hess. With the exception of the opening scenes, Jerusha's directorial debut is much more polished than the quirky collaborations directed by her husband. Jerusha also utilizes music to greater effect, particularly with the end credits scene - make sure you stick around for that.

Similar To  

Apparently not similar to the book, or so I hear. There are many moments that are similar to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and once we get to Austenland, the comedic tone with the fish out of water moments feels very reminiscent of the middle act of Wedding Crashers.

Chances You'll See It in Theaters

With Twilight author Stephanie Meyer producing and financing the film, studios should be jumping at the chance to cash in on the same Twihard tweens who don't have anymore Twilight films to blow money on. Throw in actual thirty-somethings who are long-time Austen fans, and you've at least got your female bases covered.

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