[I liked a chick flick! Crap, am I gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it would be terribly inconvenient.]
Anyway. Five women and one guy (a handsome, charming, rich, and sensitive guy who likes older women1, it is worth pointing out) form a book club to discuss the novels of Jane Austen. They find their own lives and problems mirroring the books they’re reading (very vaguely and loosely), and with the aid and inspiration of said books are able to work out said problems (very unconvincingly, but that’s a quibble in this sort of movie).
It’s nice to see characters in a movie actually reading books, and not only reading them but caring about them and talking about them and thinking about them. Admittedly, their thoughts are on the shallow side—said the pot to the kettle; I’ve never had a deep thought in my life2—but it’s still nice. Usually in movies and on TV reading is something done only incidentally, or more often decorously left unmentioned, like using the bathroom or watching trashy television.3
What made the movie work for me, besides the low expectations, was mostly the very agreeable cast. Even when they were being charmingly annoying, Maria Bello and Amy Brenneman and Kathy Baker and Maggie Grace and Hugh Dancy were all just adorable. You sorta want to be their galpal (Damn! Still gay!). Of the central characters only Emily Blunt—so wonderful in the otherwise mediocre The Devil Wears Prada4—got a bum deal, forced to play the most unpleasant of our heroines, a pretentious, bitchy, and unhappy culture snob. Her unbearable superiority is indicated in part by the way she refers to Austen as “Jane”—but don’t we all do that?
The actors in minor roles fare less well. The great Lynn Redgrave is positively abused as Blunt’s mother, whose function in the story is to explain why Blunt is such a witch. Jimmy Smits and Mark Blucas, as the respectively unfaithful and insensitive husbands of Brenneman and Blunt, are treated with the usual clueless broadness reserved for husbands in this sort of story. Nancy Travis, whom I’ve liked ever since So I Married An Axe Murderer (no, really! I loved that movie!), is thrown away in a tiny part.
The Jane Austen Book Club has no particular insights into human nature, no great wit, and no characters I’ll remember in a month. If you want those, read Jane Austen. But if you’re looking for a pleasant time-waster you could do worse than this.
1 At least when they look like Maria Bello.
2 Actually, I did have one once. It was about modal logic.
3 Married With Children, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons being exceptions.
4 Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, and Meryl Streep seemed to be in a completely different, much better, movie than Anne Hathaway. My first thought was that a script doctor had worked over an originally flat screenplay, but hadn’t gotten to the whole thing. It turns out that at least Blunt improvised many of her lines.