Six months. Six novels. Six members. The Jane Austen Book Club takes reading the classics to new heights of passion in this romantic comedy featuring an all-star cast.
Three years ago when The Jane Austen Book Club made the best seller lists, a friend and I started a Jane Austen book club of our own. This is how it began: I was bemoaning the tepid and forgettable books my book club had been choosing. In turn, my friend summarized her book club’s last choice – The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. Our conversation lasted over an hour, in which we reminisced about reading Pride and Prejudice in our teens, and how we had both reread Jane’s books over the years. We resolved to form our own Janeite book group. The first meeting consisted of three women eager to explore all things Jane Austen. We talked loudly and interrupted each other constantly as we polished off two bottles of champagne, a pint of strawberries, and a brick of truffle pate. Needless to say, we had a rollicking good time.
Nearly three years later, our Janeite book club has grown to include 6 members ranging from 25 to 65 years in age. One of them is a man. Sound familiar? Which brings me to The Jane Austen Book Club DVD. The video, which has been out since January, should have been released early enough for gift giving during the holidays. However, not all is lost. If they missed the opportunity on Valentine’s Day, our significant others can still place the DVD in our collective Easter Baskets or under the Blarney Stone.
The movie is better than the novel, and I rarely say that. As one Janeite friend said about the book, “I wanted less back story and more book club. There wasn’t enough talk about Jane’s novels.” While the movie isn’t exactly about Jane, it does emphasize the book club meetings. Some of the scenes, such as the first conversation in Starbuck’s, lasted well over 20 minutes. Each club member speaks their mind, no matter how outrageous their thoughts about Jane’s characters, or how vehemently the other members might disagree with another’s assessment. Grigg, the sole male member, became so excited with his book choice of Northanger Abbey that he read the Mysteries of Udolpho. What a nice touch. In fact, each of the main scenes opens with the title of Jane’s book the club plans to discuss, and shots of the actors reading the novels. These transitions work to unify the film’s scenes.
Hugh Dancy (Grigg) is yummy and adorable as Maria Bello’s (Josselyn’s) younger love interest. Amy Brenneman (Sylvia) and Jimmy Smits (Daniel )play their roles as a divorcing couple with just the right notes of sadness, anger, and regret. Kathy Bates is the perfect, quirky ringleader for the group, and I simply fell in love with Maggie Grace from ‘Lost’. The one jarring element in the film is Emily Blunt’s performance as Prudie. Her accent is too broad and not quite American, and her performance is too dour for this light, frothy fluff of a film. Prudie’s constant whining, and moaning about her husband – a man who clearly loves and adores her – is misplaced in this story. After seeing Emily’s sparkling performance in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, I was frankly disappointed with her one-dimensional, mouth-quivering, teary eyed interpretation of Prudie. In addition, the script emphasizes Prudie’s crush on one of her students. I felt uncomfortable watching scenes of a mature high school teacher falling for a kid. Sorry, but her moves on this boy reminded me too much of a bad Nancy Grace special on MSNBC. In this one instance, I liked the character more in the novel than on the screen. Prudie was much more complex and believable in print. But I place too much emphasis on Emily Blunt, whose performance is my only complaint about the film.
I loved how Robin Swicord, the director and script writer, wove the characters in with the book club meetings, their own lives, and their observations about Jane’s novels. During the commentary, one of the DVD’s many extras, one is privy to the friendship that developed among the cast and that has lasted beyond the shoot. Ms. Swicord deftly adapted the novel to the screen, slicing away most of the back story and tightening the book club scenes. Most of the actors were perfect for their parts, and my guess is that for anyone purchasing the DVD, it will be a keeper.
DVD Bonus Features Include:
- Cast and Crew Commentary
- Making of “The Jane Austen Book Club”
- “The Life of Jane Austen” Featurette
- “Character Deconstruction” Featurette
- Seven Deleted Scenes