By Chris Nichols With on February 09, 2013

Sometimes the best movies are ones where you are surprised by both genuine humor as well as truth in an unexpected genre. The whimsical romantic comedy Austenland provided both of those for me. Austenland centers on Jane Hayes, a lifelong excessive Jane Austen fan with an unfulfilling work and love life, who spends a vacation in an immersive interactive experience to “be” an Austen character and “fall in love” by the week’s end. Jane has to navigate dealing with the condescending eye of the Austenland matron Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the competing affections of the stuffy Mr. Nobley and the unceremonious groundskeeper Martin, and the lack of modern conveniences. The humor is rife throughout the movie, primarily found in the ridiculousness of Miss Charming, an Austenland customer who is oblivious to her own ignorance and sense of propriety. I found myself belly laughing on numerous occasions at the awkward moments, slapstick, and mock pretentiousness the movie presented. The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves in the movie, fully aware at how “over-the-top” the Austenland experience would be in reality. The idea of fiction vs. reality and a yearning for a “better narrative” is what ended up providing the deeper unexpected meaning in Austenland. Being unsatisfied with her life and seeing the (seeming) perfect story offered in Austen’s writings are what stir Jane’s longing for transcendence. However once she gets there, she realizes that the story for which she thought she was yearning wasn’t real, and couldn’t provide her what she wanted. Living in Austenland exposed the divide between saying what you “should” and being who you really are, and confused the line between fantasy and reality. Part of the comedy from the genuine-yet-ignorant Miss Charming came because she seemed to be the only one who had no concept of the façade of anyone’s role. Though veiled behind romance and comedy, the thoughtful questions raised by Austenland are important. What are we yearning for, and can it really satisfy? Can a “storybook ending” be manipulated and controlled? Are we comfortable being who we are or do we need to put on masks for other people? What defines a real, authentic relationship? Whether or not you are a Jane Austen fan, you should be able appreciate the story and humor of the movie, and relate in some way to the universal themes we all deal with.

About the Author: Chris Nichols
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