It doesn’t take an expert knowledge of Jane Austen to find the charm in “Austenland.”
Keri Russell stars as Jane, a woman whose youthful love of all things Jane Austen has become borderline obsessive in her 30s.
When she discovers a resort that caters to Austenites like herself, she spends her entire nest egg for one last-ditch effort to find a true-life “Pride & Prejudice” love story, or give Austen up for good.
After arriving at Austenland, Jane is snapped back to reality by the owner, played by a severe Jane Seymour, who reminds the women that they are solely playing characters and the men are paid to romance them.
Despite the looming threat of expulsion from the resort, it doesn’t take long for Jane to begin falling for her suitors, from the Darcy-esque Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild) to the forbidden stable boy, Martin (Bret McKenzie).
Playing a wealthy guest determined to break Austenland’s rigid “Look, but don’t touch” policy with the gentlemen, Jennifer Coolidge is as charmingly clueless as she was in “Legally Blonde” and the Christopher Guest films.
But it’s the terrific Georgia King, best known in the States for playing Goldie on NBC’s short-lived “The New Normal,” who steals scenes as a third patron of Austenland who gets perhaps too invested in her character’s happy ending.
Adapted from a novel by Shannon Hale, not everything works, like the way Jane so quickly begins to defy the rules of Austenland despite spending her all of her savings to get there.
There’s also the sardonic rom-com bestie who spouts off clunky expositional dialogue in the vein of, “But Jane, you can’t spend your entire life savings to go to Austenland!”
Some of the character moments seem a bit rushed, including an effective but perhaps unwelcome twist in the final act, which likely stems from the challenge of packing a 200+ page book into a 95-minute film.
Still, Russell is an engaging enough lead to make it work, and as anyone who has seen an episode of “Felicity” can tell you, she’s an expert at awkward romantic encounters.
Despite the undeniable influence of Jane Austen on both the film’s lead and its plot, “Austenland” is still one the most original rom-coms in recent years.