austenlandDallying in the Drawing Room
Stars: Keri Russell, J. J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Jane Seymour, Georgie King and Ricky Whittle
Director: Jerusha Hess
Scriptwriters: Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale from her novel "Austenland"
Sony Pictures Classic
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 97 minutes
The word “obsession” comes to mind here as we enter the world of Jane Hayes (portrayed wide-eyed by Keri Russell) who has lived on Jane Austen novels since she was a teen. This is the story of Austenland, which, in the film, is a fanciful resort in Great Britain, promising to give woman a life-for-a-day-week-etc. of Jane Austen novels, costumes, food, manners and gracious men. Director Jerusha Hess (who co-wrote “Napoleon Dynamite”) doesn't let a moment go by without a cup of tea or stroll in the garden or reading Austen novels or dressing for lavish dinners. After seeing pickled sheep eyeballs on the menu, one wonders as to the strength of stomachs. Jennifer Coolidge plays Elizabeth Charming, a wealthy heiress on the same trip and she is the exact opposite of Jane.
As the story goes, back in America, Jane breaks up with her boyfriend, a cad who doesn't appreciate the charms of Mr. Darcy from an Austen novel. He actually punches the life-size cut-out Jane has in her apartment, which looks like an Austen museum. Jane, against a friend’s wishes, takes all of her money and goes on the Austenland retreat. It isn't as it is cracked up to be. They promise to give the women romance, but Jane receives dowdy costumes and a room in the servant’s quarters (she does not have the Deluxe Package.) A delightfully sarcastic Jane Seymour plays Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the Person-in-Charge. Days pass and Jane is bored, but two men take notice, the dignified actor playing Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild) and the stable boy complete with horses, Martin (Bret McKenzie.) They are opposites and which one will Jane end up with---or none? In the meantime, Elizabeth is flirting with everyone in sight and having trouble fitting into her lavish gowns. The best part of the movie is the play, written by Mrs. Wattlesbrook, that everyone must participate in. Watch who does all the work backstage and it isn't the men.
This is a film about what is real and what isn't.  Jane lives in a fantasy world and when confronted with it, starts to see flaws. You can run away from life just so far before it catches up with you. Are you prepared for it? Keri Russell has an expressive face, but her soft dialogue makes you want to lean toward the screen to hear her. The opposite of Jennifer Coolidge. Romance can seem to happen in this lush setting where men bow and manners are everything. Backstage, though, it is 2013 and the world goes on.
I thought “Austenland” could have been more and I believe it is the casting of Keri Russell in the title role. Perhaps Lisa Kudrow could have made the role of Jane richer. Russell doesn't seem comfortable here. On the other hand, Jennifer Coolidge steals her scenes, and so does Ricky Whittle as Captain George East (look out Captain Jack Sparrow) who takes his shirt off at every available moment and looks ready for a gym workout.
The sound track by Ilan Eshker (“Young Victoria”) is lush and good and set design takes you back into the Austen time period. Nothing is perfect here, and everything looks a bit worn, even chairs and wallpaper. There are humorous moments and moments when the audience doesn't know which character is talking “real” or not, but then a distraction and even at 97 minutes, the film seemed long. The script moves hesitantly and gives the impression that the entire film could have used another rehearsal.
Two Tocks 
Copyright 2013 Marie Asner
For another Keri Russell film review see: