Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Jane Austen Book Club

Lowdown: A collection of contemporary characters as they live the Jane Austen stories.
Our ongoing Jane Austen festival is reaching its desperate stage with us watching 2007’s The Jane Austen Book Club (TJABC), a contemporary take on Austen’s familiar themes.
TJABC follows a bunch of semi familiar actors portraying a bunch of characters, each with their own distinct issues. There’s one who just discovered her husband is cheating on her, another who is a teacher disappointed with her husband and is looking towards an affair with a student, another who can only relate to dogs, another who is a young lesbian, another whose hobby is to get married, and another – the only guy around – who is a computer wiz and a science fiction fan. Circumstances and a decision to unite in running a Jane Austen book club bring them all together: each month one of them hosts a session where the group focuses on another Jane Austen book.
TJABC follows the characters evolution through and in between club meetings. What we end up thus following is a collection of Austen like stories taking place on each of those characters. In doing so, TJABC provides us with a double the Austen experience: a take on each of the Austen stories as well as a take on how relevant the Austen stories are today. Or are they?
There can be no doubt about TJABC being a chicks flick. If anything, the numerical superiority of the female sex is evidence there. On its own that is not a problem, but I did have a problem with TJABC, a problem I consider to be quite problematic: watching the film I was unable to find any character with whom I could identify, a problem I didn't have with characters such as Elizabeth Bennett or a Ms Dashwood. One has to admit that lacking a character to relate to makes movie watching a rather detached experience, and indeed that is what TJABC proved out to be.
Things come down to your typical American film problem: although a lot of the usual Hollywood sweetness has been removed from most of the film (but not from its cheesy ending), stereotypes dominate still. Especially with the sole male club member, who should have been the easiest character for me to identify with. On the positive side, the film does sport some liberal values; most Hollywood flicks are horribly conservative.
As for the story being a modern Austen one: no it’s not. It’s a collection of dramas not unlike those inflicting many simplistic American dramas, and as such they lack the grandeur and the sophistication of the Austen stories. After all, if mimicking Austen was that easy we wouldn’t have held Austen with as much regard as we justifiably do.
Key scene: Our heroes meet for the first official book club meeting at a coffee shop (guess which chain won the rights for product placement). All the women are there waiting, and then to everyone’s amazement the guy arrives wearing bicycle riding attire. How dare he! Then he continues on to read notes he prepared in advance. The female characters are shocked by it; we're meant to be on their side. Obviously, this initial meeting of the club is meant to be a key scene. However, to me it just serves to point out the film’s weaknesses and it's often contrived nature.
Technical assessment: An average Blu-ray with a generally sharp picture but distorted colors, with everything appearing yellowish. The sound is nothing special, as per normal chick flick regulations.
Overall: As far as contemporary takes on Austen’s stories are concerned, I liked the TV mini series Lost in Austen much more than I did this feature film. Which shows that production values and resources are still no match for better ideas, and that the supposed reproduction of Austen’s good ideas is not a guarantee for quality. While I can't recommend it I didn’t suffer that much, so I’ll be generous and give TJABC 2.5 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

I don't think I've ever heard "most Hollywood flicks are horribly conservative," or anything resembling it, for that matter.

Moshe Reuveni said...

You should have a read of American movie reviews published in Australia, then...
Most American rom-coms are. Can you name one that doesn't have a desperate woman whose life is not worth living without a man by her side? It's always the same themes telling you that you're not a human if you don't have a hetro partner, a house in the suburb, a dog and a couple of children then you're inhuman.
Have a look here for another perspective:

Moshe Reuveni said...

Anyway, you're right: I should have reserved my observation to romantic comedies.