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2013-11-01 08:58
What it's about:

A lifelong Jane Austen fan spends all her savings on a holiday in Austenland – a theme park that celebrates all things Austen, where she hopes to find romance and a world that isn't so much extinct, as one that never really existed in the first place.

What we thought:

The poster, the trailer and the general critical reception may convince you to give Austenland a miss as it looks, for all the world, like just another lightweight romantic comedy. Well, it is lightweight, it is romantic and it is a comedy but there's nothing “just another” about Austenland. No one would confuse this film for a masterpiece – frankly, it's too self-consciously underachieving to even want to be such a thing – but it is very charming, very very funny and very very very very weird.

It's not weird in the way of an avante garde film but it's still such an odd little movie. Mind you, that's hardly that surprising since it's directed and co-written by Jerusha Hess, the writer of such deadpan oddities as Nacho Libre and, oh yes, Napoleon Dynamite. With this kind of pedigree behind it, it's pretty easy to see why so many people have taken against Austenland as Napoleon Dynamite is unquestionably one of the most divisive comedies of the century, with its deadpan, quirky sense of humour that makes Wes Anderson's ouvre look like the Police Academy movies.

And yet, though I actually land somewhere in the middle when it comes to Hess' past work, her sensibilities elevate Austenland from dopey romcom to something that is actually kind of interesting. It has what to say about preferring the fantasy over the reality when it comes to both life and love and it has a satiric edge to every scene in the film and yet, at its heart, it's a surprisingly warm and endlessly funny little film, in both senses of the word “funny”.

Keri Russel is great in the lead but she is, in effect, the straight man to the rest of the zany cast around her. Even her apparently bland potential love interest turns out to be more than we think he is, so it's up to Russel to keep things relatively grounded, while everything around her goes to pot. Thankfully she is more than up to the task.

As for the rest of the cast, we have Jennifer Coolidge trampling all over the line between hilarious and annoying and Georgia King as a funhouse version of a Lady, but best of all is Battlestar Galactica's James Callis who is clearly having a ball blurring the line between English gentleman and prancing dandy. Callis was one of the best things about Galactica and he all but entirely steals the show here.

It is admittedly, a somewhat difficult film to actually recommend because it's peculiar sense of humour, frilly aesthetic and weirdly unpredictable predictability undoubtedly isn't for everyone, but it's kind of a pleasure to see something this bonkers actually make an appearance at our cinemas.

Not that it will actually do well at cinemas, of course. It looks too girly to appeal to males, too silly for serious art fans and too weird for casual movie goers, but before it inevitably gains its cult following on the home market, it's nice that those of us who do like our comedies a bit of the beaten track will be able to say we saw it first.

It's not for everyone, but this gloriously insane little comedy is bound for cult-classic glory.
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