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The Jane Austen Book Club: Sweet, Comforting, Womanly

I was totally right about The Jane Austen Book Club: It makes a far better movie than it did a book — though yes, I'm aware that Austen herself would blanch at my saying that about any written work. In this situation, however, we don't particularly need to know the inner workings of these characters' emotional lives. We don't need to read their thoughts. The intersecting stories of five women — and one man — who make up the Jane Austen Book Club are interesting enough on the surface to sustain a movie. All told, The Jane Austen Book Club is now one of my favorite movies of 2007.

The film's premise keeps it going at a nice steady clip: six people form a book club devoted to reading Austen's six novels over the course of six months. Bernadette (Kathy Baker) is a boisterous, life-loving older woman who has been married several times and has a warm way of making friends with everyone. Her friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello) is an unmarried successful dog breeder, and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) is struggling to understand the unraveling of her marriage. Sylvia's daughter is the adventurous Allegra (Maggie Grace), a lesbian jewelery-maker. Rounding out the club is the controlling high school French teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt) and the lone male of the group: the sweet and energetic Grigg (Hugh Dancy).

How (and why) do I love thee, Jane Austen Book Club? I will count the ways (wrong writer, I know, just go with it) if you

  1. This is very much a woman's world. The Jane Austen Book Club is for women to talk about, well, women. The addition of the one male, Grigg, provides endless comedic relief, and somehow highlights the empowerment that comes from these womens' shared love of Austen. In many ways, men (often including Grigg) are utterly on the outside of this circle, and the circle consists of some awesome ladies. Certainly I found myself wishing I could be friends with these characters.
  2. The film is a wonderfully affirming ode to the joys and comforts of female friendship. There isn't the cattiness of soapy "Melrose Place"-type dramas though there is also a blessed lack of the silliness of, say, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. It's just a simple, lovely, funny portrayal of the kinds of relationships real women often have with one another.
  3. Writer/Director Robin Swicord has achieved what I think is a most admirable thing: the perfect balance between drama and humor that keeps everything real enough while always quickly providing an opportunity to laugh after a somber moment. This way, things don't get too precious or bogged down in the mire and muck of life.
  4. The differences between "women's literature" (i.e. Austen) and "men's literature" (i.e. science fiction novels) are explored, and it's a curious topic. Grigg is a huge fan of science-fiction, and for him, being a man is intrinsically tied to science-fiction. He even tries to understand Austen's works in the best way he knows how: by comparing them to Star Wars. On the other hand, Jocelyn scorns the entire sci-fi genre — until Grigg points out that many of his favorite sci-fi works are written by women under ambiguous pseudonyms.
  5. In a move that would be completely Austen-approved, there is a beautifully happy ending. Admittedly, if this ending weren't as abrupt as it is, it would be gratingly cheesy. But to my relief, our protagonists having "all that they desire" in the end (as Austen aimed to do for her characters) is perfectly satisfying.


SweetPeasMom SweetPeasMom 9 years
I just watched this movie yesterday and I did enjoy it. Not one of my favorites, but it was good and it made me want to read more.
desertbanshee desertbanshee 9 years
Rented the DVD yesterday. Watched it once with son - bathtub scene a little awkward - and once with husband, who did actually laugh more than once. Overall, it was fun and I liked it very much.
pilgreen29 pilgreen29 10 years
Wow!!!! Just saw this film....utterly stunning! Not even familiar with Jane Austen running out tomorrow a.m. first thing to buy 'Persuasion.' Loved the script, the plot, honesty and humor. A well tied-up, gem of a movie that draws you in as if each character were a bit of yourself and then gently culminates with each character having severe lovely! On a more superficial level...I'm in-love with the long sweater coats the women were wairing in the beach scenes near the end. If any-one knows where these are from or who the designer is...I'm on a need-to-know basis!!!! Anyways, go and see for will not be dissapointed!!!!
books-and-shoes books-and-shoes 10 years
I had this book on my shelf and let it go in my book swap before I ever read it. So yay! I'll go watch the movie!
beingtazim beingtazim 10 years
This looks great! I'm glad you enjoyed it, Buzz. It seems rare at times that a movie is better than the book. but I could see that being the case with this one.
lil-l lil-l 10 years
Thanks for all of the info. I am a fan of Jane Austen, I pretty much see/read everything to do with her!
liza0183 liza0183 10 years
I saw the trailer posted here and to my surprise my uncle is in it dancing w/ kathy baker's character!! but i wanted to see this before i saw him in it cause i am a sucker for a good girl movie. :) i luv emily blunt she is my new fav.
youngheart222 youngheart222 10 years
Thanks for the review Buzz! The movie seems great, besides, everything involving Ms.Austen is a must-see(read) for me... I can't wait to check it out!
CiaoBella2 CiaoBella2 10 years
I saw the trailer and can't wait to see this movie!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 10 years
Thanks for the great review, Buzz. Just added this to my must-see list
pinkflats pinkflats 10 years
OHHHHHHH so that would explain the realistic depiction of women's friendships with other females. thanks buzz, for checking one that. a female director besides sophia coppola. i'm shock. lol. well i hope that ms. robin gets more jobs in the future.
Amanda-La Amanda-La 10 years
My husband has been dogging the entire idea of this movie since it came out so I naturally thought it would suck because we normally have the same taste in movies but I think I'm gonna go with you on this one, he doesn't get girly but I do.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 10 years
I am not big on "chick" flicks, and i dont like maria bello. So nay.
Entertainment Entertainment 10 years
pinkflats — Good question. This Robin, Robin Swicord, is a woman. Here's a photo of her with Maria Bello on the set of Jane Austen Book Club.
pinkflats pinkflats 10 years
i did see the preview you posted here in sugar, buzz, and i already fell in in love with the film. i'm glad to hear that it got a great,satisfying review from you and i also like the idea of women's friendship with other women portrayed realistically in the film. how very un-hollywood of the movie?!?! i love it!!! one question though, is the director and the writer/s females or males? i know that the name robin can go both ways, so that's why i'm asking.
alillee alillee 10 years
looks really good!
xo_verity xo_verity 10 years
Great review! I cant wait to see this :)
leahlarocco leahlarocco 10 years
Nice to hear the film is better than the books :)
Tennant_Love Tennant_Love 10 years
I must see this film when it is released here in the UK. I loved the trailer & I may have a tiny crush on Hugh Dancy. (Now tiny may be understatement!! ;))
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