Friday, October 12, 2007

Review: Becoming Jane

I admit to being a big fan of Jane Austen - although, like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, it took some time for her to grow on me. My introduction to her came in a British Literature class in high school, where we were force-fed Pride and Prejudice. I did not care for it - and, must admit, I read the Clifs Notes instead of the novel itself. Ah, youth. In college, as an English lit major, I couldn't fall back on old Clifs, and instead resigned myself to reading the actual novel. This time, however, I was enchanted from the opening paragraph. Did I need more experience in life to appreciate her observations, or did I require a little more maturity? Not sure, but from there I went on to read the rest of her oeuvre - all six novels!

As a result, I have a soft spot in my heart for the film adaptations of her works. How many times have I sat through the six hours of the 1995 P&P miniseries with Colin Firth? (Okay, not such a chore!) How many times have a chuckled over "modern" retellings of her novels (Bridget Jones - Clueless) So, I was pleased to discover Becoming Jane was playing in town - and set out yesterday to see it.

First, I must comment on the crowd. A Thursday afternoon matinee showing I thought would be to a nearly empty theater - instead, there was a half-full house. Could have been a school group. But also, senior citizen types - some of whom appeared to be on dates! I was especially amused by the two women behind me, who appeared to be much younger than me. They were apparently shocked several times. In one scene, the two young male protagonists run down to the river after a cricket match, shedding their clothes and jumping into the water. The camera lingered over their naked backsides - and both women gasped loudly!

But on to the film. Being familiar with the life of Miss Austen, I knew that she never married, and lived a quiet life with her sister, writing. So I knew that the plot - young Jane falls in love with a penniless rogue, while her mother tries to marry her off to the scion of local gentry - would end with her alone. In fact, the screenwriter and director have in some ways used Shakespeare in Love as their model - this failed romance clearly echoes the plot of Pride and Prejudice with Jane Austen herself as the model for Elizabeth. Her early encounters with Mr. Lefroy echo those of Lizzie and Mr Darcy, and one even finds phrases from P&P uttered by characters in the film. So, the suspense element - will they elope? - was removed for me. But not so the women behind me. One commented, "so it was basically a tragedy. She was left alone for the rest of her life." I would argue that there was a happy ending for Jane - she became the writer she so desperately wanted to be, even attaining a small bit of recognition in her lifetime, which was unusual for that era. And, yes, she never married, but don't we all make trade-offs?

It is a pretty film, lovely costumes and locales. Beautifully filmed. And fairly well acted - I always enjoy Anne Hathaway, and she doesn't disappoint here. She and James MacAvoy (best known for The Last King of Scotland) have real chemistry - and he was a very attractive hero. As I said, the story isn't compelling or taxing, doesn't require a lot of work from the viewer.

Would I recommend it? If, like me, you're an Austen fan (and not one who will do a lot of nitpicking on details), you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for a pleasant 90 minutes, go. But, on the whole, I'd say this is a good renter for a cold, snowy winter afternoon - when you could curl up with some cocoa, snuggle under a blanket, and doze during the film - your enjoyment won't suffer by sleeping through portions!

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