Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen
The leaves begin to fall to earth. The air turns crisp. ‘Tis time for a deluge of Relationship Movies – our autumnal harvest of Sensitive Young People getting their hearts stomped on, valiantly facing unspeakable angst, revealing their innermost secrets, and in the end finding their One True Love whilst we in the audience sniffle, reach for our hankies, smile sadly, and devour the last of our popcorn.
That’s a fairly accurate description of how I felt when I went to see “The Jane Austen Book Club,” currently playing at The Visulite in Staunton. I was cynical. I was sophisticated. I was hip. I was prepared to be bored out of my gourd. And then a funny thing happened. I saw a wonderful movie.
Although the film is probably doomed to financial failure – how many young moviegoing guys even know who Jane Austen was – the film has such an original and unique plot that I was delighted to surrender to its sunshiny enchantment.
In a nutshell, six people decide to read all six of Jane Austen’s novels and meet periodically to discuss them. We learn about their lives, their problems, their attitudes through their reactions to and discussions of the various novels.
By the way, you don’t really need to know much about the books they’re reading to enjoy the movie, but it does help to deepen ones understanding.
The club is started by Kathy Baker, in her finest work since “Picket Fences” in the early 1990s. She’s feisty and wise and married half a dozen times. She invites her friends to join the club. They are the glowing Maria Bello, who’s never fallen in love, and the dewy-eyed Audrey Hepburnish Emily Blunt as a school teacher who’s married but in love with one of her students. Then comes Amy Brenneman, trying to recover from a divorce from her hubby, Jimmy Smits. The fifth member of the club is Maggie Grace (from TV’s “Lost”) playing Brenneman’s daughter, a twentysomething and rather capricious young lesbian.
Member number six, who kind of stumbles into the club, is English dreamboat Hugh Dancy (late of the good but unacclaimed film “Evening”). He’s in hot pursuit of Ms. Bello, but also not above judging Amy’s obvious charms.
As the movie rolls along, and they each deal with their separate personal problems, the richly-hued script and marvelous acting of all the principals lay bare the diversity of their femaleness, with Dancy charismatic and natural. The script was so good, in fact, that I didn’t even mind when things and relationships seemed to miraculously began to work out for the best. The reason for that? Screenwriter Robin (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) Swicord had somehow made me care deeply about each of these people.
The film is based on Karen Joy Fowler’s bestselling novel and, I am hoping, will overcome the testosterone poisoning that’s bound to spring from that division of moviegoers devoted to films of mass destruction and/or toilet humor.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” is the best film I’ve seen so far this year. The ensemble acting is a wonder to behold, and two of the stalwarts, Brenneman and Bello, can be seen together again later this year in “Downloading Nancy.”
Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:
A good slate of recent movies for all tastes currently abide at the Little Theater That Could over in downtown Staunton. Particularly of note is “The Brave One,” especially for viewers who harbor a distrust of and distaste for New York City. The film is a kinda-remake of the old Charlie Bronson “Death Wish” franchise back in the 1970s and ’80s.
In this one, Jodie Foster re-hoists the rather dubious banner of Vigilante Justice. I saw the original film in NYC when it opened in 1974. Every time Bronson gunned down a mugger or a street thug, the audience went wild with cheers and applause. Just goes to show ya.
Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.