Cinapse Selects: AUSTENLAND

A comedy about a woman’s fandom — with a dash of romance.

The Cinapse Selects column is written by our team on rotation, focusing on films that are past their marketing cycle. Maybe we’ll select a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. We’re all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some validation that others love what you love too!

Ricky Whittle is due to make his starmaking turn as Shadow in the Starz series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods at the end of April. I caught the SXSW premiere and the pilot met (perhaps even exceeded) my high expectations, given the involvement of Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal). I decided this Cinapse Selects column would be a fine opportunity to write up an earlier film featuring Mr. Whittle — the eccentric romantic comedy Austenland.

The 2013 film, with a screenplay co-written by the novel’s original author Shannon Hale and writer/director Jerusha Hess, delves into fantasy and fandom. Whittle plays the dashing Captain East, one of the revolving castmembers at a Regency Era-inspired attraction and happy of any excuse to doff his shirt. Keri Russell stars as Jane Hayes, a woman who has squandered much of her life savings to spend a couple weeks at the park run by Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) in hopes that being thrust into such an environment may calm her Pride & Prejudice obsession.

She is joined by other attendees Miss Elizabeth Charming (the always hilarious Jennifer Coolidge) and Lady Amelia (Georgia King, One Day), who hope to find love — or at least a dalliance. Vying for the ladies’ affections are Wattlesbrook’s players Colonel Andrews (James Callis, Battlestar Galactica) and Mr. Nobley (J.J. Feild, Turn)… as well as a flirty saxophone-playing stablehand named Martin (Bret McKenzie, Flight of the Conchords) and late arrival Captain East.

Immersed in such a place, Jane finds herself emotionally confused and fears losing herself in the fantasy. She hits it off with Martin — although on the DVD commentary, director Hess says that McKenzie and Russell kept giggling whenever they’d have a kissing scene — but feels drawn, despite herself, to the grumpier Mr. Nobley. In midst of rehearsal for a play the house party guests will put on, she asks Nobley, “What’s going to happen when the theatrical is over?”

Amidst the layers of artifice, the taxidermied creatures, the house actors playing their parts, the rich women in empire-waist gowns, Jane feels an outsider. She and the silly Miss Charming are quick friends, yet the Coolidge character is far more eager to buy into the illusion.

The set design well illustrates the extravagance of the property and the ridiculousness of Jane’s situation. The excess even bleeds into the depiction of Jane’s fandom. Her love for Jane Austen’s work is shown as verging on addiction, from the Colin Firth Darcy figure in her apartment to the teacup she carried around as a teenager. It leans towards exaggeration.

Austenland fully embraces its silliness, unafraid to go a little over-the top at times. The comedic elements may outweigh the romance, but there’s still a happily ever after for our Jane.

Previous post KISS OF DEATH Brings Cackling Noir Thrills on Blu-ray
Next post Arrow Heads Vol. 34: The DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY & Engaging With Takashi Miike