You don't have to be a fan of Jane Austen's novels to enjoy Robin Swicord's "The Jane Austen Book Club", but after spending 106 delightful minutes with some of the most likable people you'll ever meet, you may want to grab "Pride and Prejudice", and start a club of your own!
This IS another film where the women are all beautiful, and the men, hot, but, to Swicord's credit (working from Karen Joy Fowler's terrific novel), she establishes each character with a humanity that transcends appearance. Working mom, Syl (Amy Brenneman), has it all, with a great job as a librarian, a radiant, if klutzy, lesbian daughter (Maggie Grace), and a devoted husband (Jimmy Smits)...until he announces he was cheating on her, and asks for a divorce. Oft-married, ever-optimistic Bernadette (Kathy Baker) decides to create an Austen club to provide emotional support for both Syl and their best friend, ever-single dog trainer/matchmaker Jocelyn (Maria Bello), who is grieving over the loss of a beloved dog. Bernadette meets young, uptight French teacher/Austen devotee Prudie (Emily Blunt), who has her own baggage, with an inattentive husband (Marc Blucas), an ex-hippie mom (Lynn Redgrave), and a sexy student (Kevin Zegers), whose attentions are sparking her barely-repressed lust. The older woman quickly railroads Prudie into her plan, finalizing a book club that will be "all-women, all-Austen", focusing on a different Austen novel, each month. Ah, but then Jocelyn meets handsome young computer geek, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), and decides to pair Syl with him, using the club...so a male member joins in the mix, and the fun really begins...
With each major character a 21st century variation of an Austen one, the story unfolds around the monthly meeting/book discussions, allowing the entire cast opportunities to shine. Will Syl recover from her failed marriage? Will Prudie give in, and have her forbidden tryst? Will Jocelyn ever figure out Grigg loves HER? Swicord succeeds in making every subplot both involving, and entertaining!
Great bonus features make "The Jane Austen Book Club" even better. The Austen prototypes of each character are explained, there is a terrific biography of the writer (far better than the one offered in "Becoming Jane"), and an affectionate behind-the-scenes look at the production all truly expand the enjoyment of the film.
Is this a 'chick flick'? Certainly! But with it's well-written male roles, I prefer to think of this as an ideal 'date' movie, and an experience guys can enjoy, too!
"All Austen, all the time" never sounded better!