In Becoming Jane, the filmmakers purport that a possible love affair Jane Austen may or may not have had with roguish Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) was the fodder for all of Austen's love-fueled novels. Weaving together fact and fiction (along with bits of Austen's well-known works), the movie is at best an adequate romantic drama of star-crossed lovers, presumably presenting the reasoning behind why Austen indulged her characters and gave them "all they desired." At worst, it's watching Anne Hathaway give a surprisingly and disappointingly charmless, humorless performance as one of the world's most beloved authors.
One of several children in a family of modest means, Austen grew up at a time when the wise, diligent thing for young ladies to do was to marry into a wealthy man's family, relieving her own family of the burden of one more mouth to feed. Becoming Jane puts forth the love affair Austen enjoyed with Tom McFroy as her one opportunity to marry for love, though other marriage proposals that don't interest young Jane also come her way. The story is basically about the "for love or money" conundrum, and it is visually interesting — the chilly, milk-white English atmosphere lending a kind of sad beauty to it all. Yet playing the central character, Anne Hathaway falls flat as Jane Austen, commanding little authority and making Austen seem like quite the bland character. To find out more about why,
Despite Austen's famed wit, there is nary a sparkle in Hathaway's eye, her performance so dull one wonders if anybody would care about this story in the least if her character's name were not Jane Austen. I found myself desperately wishing someone else had played the role — particularly someone who is actually British or could at least achieve the accent more successfully than Hathaway could, as her accent is irritatingly spotty. Emily Mortimer could have been a welcome replacement, for example.
The best part of the whole thing is James McAvoy playing Tom Lefroy: skinny, one might say twirpish, but with an intensely mesmerizing gaze. Boyish, but fearless, daring, and quite sexy. As the object of Austen's affections, he's challenging and exciting. However, again, the way Hathaway portrays Austen, it's difficult to see what would be attractive about her to Lefroy. I'd hoped the film would have charmed me as much as Austen's writing does, but to my dismay I found myself wishing I'd spent the two hours with one of her novels rather than watching Becoming Jane.