The Jane Austen Book Club

Starring Maria Bello, Hugh Dancy, Jimmy Smits and Lynn Redgrave. Directed by Robin Swicord.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Rated: . Rated M (infrequent moderate coarse language).
This is a book of product placement (and this is not meant to refer to the many scenes in and mentions of Starbucks). It is product placement for Jane Austen and her novels. While the screenplay tries to explain the many parallels between its characters and Jane's, those not in the know might be hard put to appreciate what the characters are actually talking about. Buy the books!

Another difficulty is that the men in the film have not read Jane Austen's novels while the women definitely have and love them, are happy to discuss them and to see the parallels in their own lives. It may be the same for audiences - though for the women getting the men to watch the film with them, they will be consoled that the men do read the books and finally become part of the Jane Austen book club.

One might call this an allegory of Jane Austen characters and situations. The six members (five women and one man) take a novel each and the film shows us the six months while each takes a turn in leading discussion on a particular novel. And the parallels and the references are there to enjoy. Yes, it is contrived. In fact, it is very, very contrived. Those not into this kind of structure may be wearied and put off, but those who enter into it and draw on their memories of the books and characters may well be fascinated.

There is a good cast. The attractive Maria Bello is unmarried but breeds dogs and tries to control people's lives - for their benefit, of course. She is an Emma. She doesn't realize she has met her Mr Knightly in the form of young science-fiction expert, Hugh Dancy, who tries to persuade her to read Ursula Le Guin. Amy Brenneman's husband, Jimmy Smits, has walked out on her for another woman. She is a Fanny Price, serious and dutiful, from Mansfield Park. Her daughter, Maggie Grace, is in lesbian relationships. Her book is Sense and Sensibility. Emily Blunt is a buttoned up daughter of a hippy (Lynn Redgrave) and is dismayed by her one-of-the-boys husband. She and he have to go through a Persuasion experience. Hugh Dancy has taken on Northanger Abbey and set up a kind of Ghost Train experience in his house for the club meeting. A flamboyant Kathy Baker, founder of the club, has been married six times and ventures on a seventh in the spirit of Elizabeth Bennett.

While the film traces the ups and downs of relationships, it moves definitely at the end to up and up.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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