Robin Swicord | 101 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13
I like to think I have a fairly high tolerance for ‘chick flicks’ — over the years I’ve rather enjoyed films such as Love Actually or Bring It On, and not just because of the male-friendly porn-stand-in scenes or cheerleader costumes — but even I was a bit uncertain about this one at first. However, as it progressed, gradually revealing more about the characters, their lives, and how they cope with what the world throws at them, I found myself increasingly enjoying it. By the time we had to pause it twenty minutes from the end, I found myself itching to continue to find out what would happen.
Inevitably, it’s not flawless. At times it feels like a collection of subplots linked only by the monthly book group meetings, with whichever plot thread is the focus of a scene becoming the de facto main story… until the next scene begins, of course. A working knowledge of Austen’s novels is helpful too. I presumed the film (and book on which it is based) merely invoked Austen’s perennially popular name to boost sales, but there’s actually a fair bit of analysis of the books thrown in, which often reflects what’s happening to the characters. You can get by without an Austen familiarity, but I found the Pride & Prejudice segments made more sense than the others thanks to my (marginally) increased understanding of that particular text.
It would be very easy to pigeonhole The Jane Austen Book Club as a ‘film for women’… and, to be honest, that wouldn’t be at all unfair: it’s as squarely aimed at a female audience as Die Hard is aimed at blokes. It’s also ultimately disposable, apparently with nothing new or revelatory to say about womankind. In spite of all that, I enjoyed it more than I probably had any reason to — and not just because of the male-friendly lesbian character.