Published Jan 20, 2013While difficult to tell, seeing as sophomore director Jerusha Hess's vision doesn't appear to have any sort of planning or trajectory, it seems that the romantic comedy Austenland is intended to mock those living within self-sustaining delusions of classic literature. The central character, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), is little more than a Jane Austen obsessed caricature, decorating her home in Austen apparel and existing within a romantic vacuum that measures everyone up to the fictional Mr. Darcy.
This rushed set-up, which involves a context-free flashback to Jane wearing braces as a teen—as just one example of an idea executed atrociously—leads into the setup, wherein our protagonist spends her life savings on a British Jane Austen retreat, wherein everyone lives the antiquated lifestyle in costume and behaviour, tucked away from the world at a large manor,
This is also where Jennifer Coolidge enters the picture as a horny middle-aged women, presumably suffering some sort of brain damage, donning a deliberately bad British accent and throwing out an endless array of her trademark one-liners, which, sadly—save "I think being creative is a waste of time any money"—don't connect at all.
And just as her comedy sidekick character tends towards annoying more so than funny, Jane's eventual romantic dalliances in Austenland, flirting with the hired help (Bret McKenzie), while assuming that Mr. Nobley (JJ Field) is merely an actor portraying the characteristics of Mr. Darcy, are incoherent and unfocused at best.
Within the mishmash of strained jokes and under-developed love stories is some discussion of fantasy versus reality, which is made literal by Jane's tenuous grasp on distinguishing between the men that are pretending to love her and those that actually do, but it's slight and handled with the same lack of focus as the rest of the film.
Still, on occasion, there are completely random events in the movie that are genuinely funny. During an early establishing conversation between Jane and Martin (McKenzie), a giant stuffed chicken sits on a hay bale behind them without explanation.
Similarly, during a social gathering where the women are expected to play piano for their guests, a random farting noise blasts out as Jane reluctantly gets up to play a historically inappropriate song. The fart itself isn't funny, but the fact that it's not addressed at all in the scene, nor reacted to, suggests that it was added post-production when they realized the film was dragging at that point. In a way, this base attempt to spruce things up represents the quality of Austenland on the whole. (Fickle Fish)