The Jane Austen Book Club, the story of six people who meet over six months to read the novels of Jane Austen, is not a great film, but a good one. I found it entertaining and enjoyable enough to buy, and now, my third viewing, I’m still finding new things in it.
The cast is very good. Amy Brenneman has just been dumped by husband Jimmy Smits. Their daughter Maggie Grace is an adventure-seeker who loves too quickly. Amy’s best friend Maria Bello is terrific as a long-time single who keeps trying to set sci-fi reader Hugh Dancy up with Amy, but he’s more interested in Maria. Wonderfully wacky and wide-ranging Kathy Baker brings in new friend Emily Blunt, a teacher who feels she’s outgrown husband Marc Blucas and is considering an affair with a student.
I picked it because I like Dancy (having recently seen him as lead in Confessions of a Shopaholic), and his character is my favorite. He’s a rich techie who’s got a very practical approach to life, and I love the way he and Bello bond over books. The best series of scenes is when she finally tries one of his recommendations.
Some of the other stories don’t work as well for me. The Brenneman storyline is a little unbelievable in its romantic fantasy. I have more appreciation for Blucas than many others do, but he’s not given much to do, and Blunt comes off harsh and unsympathetic. Still, with so many interesting characters, scenes change frequently and there’s plenty to watch.
There’s lots of humor and lots of insight, and it’s refreshing to see so much enjoyment of books and literary discussion on the screen. I would have liked the movie to be longer, so we spent more time with some of the characters (Baker, Dancy’s sister, Bello going forward). Since it was adapted from a novel by Karen Joy Fowler, it’s likely that there’s more in the text that had to be cut for time. What I’m left with, after watching, is a new appreciation for the love of reading and the strong desire to re-read all of Jane Austen’s novels.
The DVD contains a commentary with writer/director Robin Swicord; actors Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, and Marc Blucas; editor Maryann Brandon; and producer Julie Lynn. It’s still neat to hear so many women involved in a major film. Swicord wrote screenplays for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Practical Magic, and Little Women, among others, but this is her first directing job.
The reason I wanted the DVD was the featurette about how the modern characters resembled Austen’s creations (called “The Book Club: Deconstructed”). While watching the movie, I thought if I knew the books better, I’d have found more resonance in the film, and this 11-minute talk with the writer/director answered some of those questions for me. It turns out that there were some character/book pairings changed between the novel and the film, and she explains why. The DVD also includes a behind-the-scenes overview (typical of the genre, lots of how great it was to work on the film), a 20-minute documentary on the life of Jane Austen that includes discussion of why her works are still popular, and seven deleted scenes. For those of you who don’t understand why one of them is Marc Blucas going off on Tim Duncan’s basketball playing, it’s because they were at Wake Forest University together for college, along with my brother.