HTS Overall Score:72.5
In a charming frolic through Nineteenth Century social etiquette set in modern times, Jerusha Hess (co-writer: Napoleon Dynamite) makes her directorial debut in a smart adaptation of Shannon Hale’s popular 2008 novel. Full of wit and romance, this quirky rom-com spotlights the empty life of a thirty-something woman completely obsessed with Jane Austen-isms and the romantic hero of her novel Pride and Prejudice: Mr. Darcy. While Austenland isn’t overly complicated or deep, the film builds intrigue through deploying amusing situational comedy and developing a competitive love-triangle among key characters, all the while benefiting from several good acting performances.
Keri Russell plays the role of Jane, a lonely bachelorette dangerously fixated on Jane Austen’s version of love and chivalry. She’s an aficionado of the author and crazed to an extent that would put most teenybopper band fanatics to shame. Her apartment looks like an Austen novel explosion, complete with period lamps, wallpaper, dolls, a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and “Darcy Rocks” adorned on her wall. While all of this sounds cute, it presents a problem: her obsession is interfering with her life, driving away potential lovers, causing friction with her friends, and resulting in never ending disappointment.
Jane eventually learns of the ultimate Austen experience, it’s an immersion resort where women go to live-out their fantasies while being treated like a classic literature character. Live actors are used to woo these women amongst the back drop of a period setting where modernisms take a back seat to bonnets and walks in the garden. Against her best friend’s wishes, Jane empties her bank account and departs to England where she hopes to fulfill her fantasies and find love. While at the airport, she meets a wealthy fellow campmate (Jennifer Coolidge) who is along for the ride for just about every reason Jane is not (including Austen-mania). The two characters are a clash in style and personality, perfectly setting the stage for some seriously amusing situations at their intended destination.
Austenland is managed by a persnickety class conscious snob named Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), who treats her guests with extreme favoritism (with the favorites being the wealthy ones). It turns out that Jane only could only afford the bottom-rung “copper level” experience in Austenland, and arrives to find that her character has been cast as an orphan of misfortune and failure. Her bedroom is tucked away with the servants quarters and clanking pipes in the basement of the resort’s mansion. Worse yet, she’s presented to the resort’s cast of characters with a pity parade introduction and is given the name “Ms. Erstwhile.” Jane has a sinking feeling that her paid retreat from reality will only mimic her real-life realities. To make matters more sensitive, Jane’s airport acquaintance splurged for the resort’s “platinum package.” She arrives at the resort with much pomp and circumstance, showered with admiration, and lands in luxurious accommodations; her given name is “Miss Elizabeth Charming.” Miss Charming can do no wrong despite her graceless social ignorance and lack of Jane Austen knowledge.
Jane finds two romantic interests at Austenland: a grounds keeper named Martin (Bret McKenzie) and the wealthy Mr. Henry Nobly (JJ Feild). The chase amongst the three is full of romance and jealously, and the lines separating the fictitious realties of the paid resort begin to blur with reality. While the script is light and fluffy, it’s smartly written and has several moments that are clever and surprising. There are also quite a few comedic situations that are good for a chuckle despite some sappiness and cliché. The result is a good film that fans of the genre will enjoy.
PG-13 for some suggestive content and innuendo.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/aul3.png[/img]Sony Pictures delivers Austenland with a relatively good 2.40:1 MPEG-4 AVC transfer that falls short of excellent. The hallmark of the film’s image is a tan push with a slightly washed-out appearance; the film’s overall brightness and paleness make the image appear somewhat unnatural. Austenland is brimming with colors that busily clash within the film’s intricate sets. Reds and pinks boldly pop from the screen, as do golds and teals that are present in many scenes. At times, the colors are oversaturated which hinders the image’s depth. The quality of blacks varies from excellent to murky (changing from scene to scene) while contrast remains good for the duration of the film. Image sharpness also varies, becoming more of an issue during long shots when subject material is at some distance from the camera. Many of the fine details you’d expect from a hi-def transfer are present, especially visible on the character’s beautiful period costumes and the film’s sets. Unfortunately these details are often held back due to sharpness issues that lend to a soft image.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news//aul4.png[/img]Austenland’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is forward and front heavy, but not to a total detriment. On the plus side, dialog is excellent with a balanced presentation that’s pleasing and highly intelligible from start to finish (probably the most important factor in a dialog driven film). The rest of the presentation is anything but dynamic, with surround activity that is sparsely present. Much of the environmental ambient sounds (such as background music, ringing bells, and birds) dominate from the mains, whiffing on opportunities to create a more enveloping experience by expanding to the rears. Directionality is excellent with dialog shifting to the appropriate main when characters are off screen (sound effects do the same). Bass is rarely a factor, only appearing with some of the film’s musical tracks which are warm and spice-up the film’s audio texture.
• Audio Commentary
• Q&A Session
• Theatrical Trailer
Austenland is an enjoyable romp that will appeal to fans of romantic comedies. It definitely offers some originality amongst the genre, creating a fantasy world of old world romance and modern complications. The film’s execution is clever and whimsical, offering a lighthearted bout of entertainment with a surprising twist for a finish. Kerri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge are the stars of the show, delivering strong performances. Surprisingly, the film’s video quality is rather middling (surprising only because Sony’a films are typically topnotch). It’s audio, on the other hand, is good enough (although Sony could have easily injected more dynamic ambiance with upgraded surround activity). This film is a must see for folks that enjoy rom-coms, but it’s failings in the audio and video departments might make it a good candidate as a rental first (buy later) film.
Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge
Directed by: Jerusha Hess
Written by: Jerusha Hess (screenplay), Shannon Hale (screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Portuguese: DTS-HD, Master Audio 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Thai: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 97 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 11, 2014
Buy Austenland on Blu-ray at Amazon