crap i have watched recently #25

portrait of jane austen by cassandra austenAnd in SPOILERS altogether there’s a self-sufficiency without fashion, which I find intolerable…

Every once in a while one needs to indulge in simple pleasures, trifles perhaps, which one can be relatively assured will not try one’s last nerve and which will have happy endings.  Thus it is we turn now to a couple of lightweight yet hopefully pleasurable Austen knock-offs.

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Austenland (2013):   Jane Hayes (Kerri Russell), a single woman of a certain age and with a singular obsession, decides after the end of a bad romance to spend her last dime on a week at Austenland, an Austen-themed immersive resort in Anywhere, England.  At Austenland one lives and breathes Jane’s World (™).  Young ladies of quality will do needlework, entertain the company on various musical instruments, and go shooting with the gentlemen.  Modern conveniences like cell phones are not allowed but romance is guaranteed.  Jane’s adventures there are loosely (and I stress that word) based on Pride and Prejudice.

The overall plot is about as you expect.  Jane arrives at Austenland and discovers that, due to her relative poverty, she can only afford the cheap package.  Thus, her experience of Regency England will be as sort of a poor relation.  She’s shown to a plain garret room and given a severe black Empire-waisted frock to wear.  The other guests, both women and both substantially wealthier, get altogether frillier rooms and attire and are pretty much two of the silliest women in England.  The male actors who round out this fantasy consist of a jocular eccentric military man, a friendly down-to-earth stable boy and carriage driver, an exceptionally well built sea captain who takes his shirt off at every opportunity (yes, very Austen-esque that is), and the quiet, one might say disdainful, Mr. Darc…Nobley.  You can, with very little effort I am sure, figure out which one of these Jane ends up with and what sorts of trials and tribulations she goes through before the happy ending.

The problem with Austenland is that it’s not really about Austen or her work.  If you’ve never read  her books or seen the A&E/BBC P&P adaptation it will make absolutely no sense to you.  The film is about an infantile woman who lives in a fantasy world who inexplicably has her fantasy come true after going through some pains to disavow it.   Jane may be “30-something” but she’s portrayed as a puppy-love struck teenager obsessed with the Colin Firth version of Fitzwilliam Darcy.  She totes around an “I ❤ Darcy” totebag.  She has “I love Darcy” in large letters tacked over the flowery wallpaper in her girly bedroom.  She has a life-sized cardboard mannequin of Colin Firth that she talks to.  Her obsession is literally all we know about her.  The other female characters in the film are no better.  All of them are one-dimensional ditzes who are only there to point out how relatively mature and deserving Lizz…er, Jane is.

Among the few highlights of the film are Rupert Vansittart as Mr. Wattlesworth, husband of Austenland’s proprietress (played by Jane Seymour), and JJ Field as Henry Nobley.  Vansittart good-naturedly reprises his role as the drunken Mr. Hurst from P&P, with a tad more lechery thrown in.  Field played Henry Tilney in ITV’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey and he brings both a welcome breath of professional restraint to this frippery and a gentle reminder that there is more to Jane Austen than Pride and Prejudice.  It does put me in mind to watch Northanger Abbey again…

Score:  the low side of Meh.

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013):  This right here is why the internet, and particularly Youtube, exists.  The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a series of 100 video episodes, with various supporting vlogs and Twitter feeds and other supplemental materials, that brings the adventures and love lives of the Bennet sisters into the present.  Despite numerous changes to the particulars of the story, the characters, their emotions, and the story itself remain remarkably intact and despite being wholly modern it is one of the more faithful adaptations that I’ve seen.

Lizzie is the middle daughter of the Bennet family.  Jane is the serene and eternally positive older sister, and Lydia is the younger-than-she-acts baby of the family.  In this version Mary is a socially inept cousin and Kitty is an actual cat.  Lizzie’s year-long video diary project is meant to be her graduate thesis but quickly turns into an engaging meditation on the life of a young woman who is absolutely clueless about her future.  Her best friend Charlotte Lu is her videographer and her sisters and other characters drop in for occasional cameos.   In many of the videos Lizzie and her sisters and Charlotte dress up and play the roles of other people in their lives, primarily Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy (initially), and Catherine de Bourgh.  Nearly all the action happens off camera and the vlog is usually filmed in Lizzie’s bedroom, although there are occasional trips to Netherfield, Collins and Collins, and even a video awards ceremony.

As adaptations that intend to bring P&P into modern times go, it’s pretty damn good.  Better for example than Lost in Austen or Bridget Jones’ Diary and way more clever than either.  Ricky Collins runs a web video company; Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist and his primary investor.  “Anniekins”, her off-screen annoying purse dog, apparently combines Anne de Bourgh and Mrs. Jenkins from the novel.  Bing Lee is a medical student who rents Netherfield while in school in the area; William Darcy is the stuffy heir to an entertainment company and Bing’s best friend; George Wickham is a rakish college swim coach; Fitz Williams is Darcy’s good friend and partner and not in the market for a girlfriend for an entirely different reason than in the novel.

There are only a few missteps.  Early on in the series Lizzie spends a bit of time slut-shaming her little sister, something I can never imagine the original doing no matter how much Lydia frustrates her.  The format itself can be somewhat frustrating.  I personally don’t have a lot of patience with Youtube and spend very little time on it so having to click through video after video kind of annoys me.  Episodes are never long but the pacing of the series itself is uneven.  There are some slow spots at the beginning that might discourage continued watching but the series picks up considerably some 20 episodes or so in.  The supplemental material, which mostly consists of twitter feeds and tumblr posts, can be skipped unless you are an absolutist, which I am.  Do watch Lydia’s videos though.

Unlike many of the homemade vlogs on Youtube this is an actual produced, scripted show and it has a respectable pedigree.  It was created, produced, and partially written by Vlog Brother Hank Green.  Its awards include an Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media.  The cast is quite good; Ashley Clements (Lizzie), Laura Spencer (Jane), and Julia Cho (Charlotte) are my favorites, but really everyone does a good job.  Caroline Lee, Mary Bennet, and Ricky Collins are more sympathetically portrayed than is usual and Charlotte’s character is considerably fleshed out.  The show handles some moments gracefully, such as when Jane receives a text from Caroline telling her the Lees have gone back to LA and when Lizzie starts to read Darcy’s letter.  It is interesting to me how the simple act of reaching over and turning off a camera confers both emotional depth and the importance of private lives.

I tend to watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries a few episodes at a time and I always look forward to rejoining the story.  I’m up to the part where Mr. Darcy has professed his love for Lizzie, she’s soundly rejected him, and he’s given her The Letter that explains it all.  The viewers have met Mr. Darcy in the flesh for the first time; he is not a terrible disappointment and is quite handsome in his socially uncomfortable way.  I know how this all will end but, as with Austen’s original, I am very much enjoying the journey to get there.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on June 6, 2014.

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