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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Overcast and Windy
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MOVIES

Austenland lacks its namesake's brains and wit
No sense, no sensibility

Fantasy collides with reality.
Fantasy collides with reality.
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For such a deft wit, Jane Austen sure has inspired some nitwitted entertainment. Actually, her influence in Austenland is negligible, save some thin ribbons of plot snipped from her catalog, including Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. Sincere Austen devotees won't find much in common with the story's modern-day Jane (Keri Russell), who decorates her apartment in Regency-style tchotchkes and a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

The filmmakers gallop through the getting-to-know-Jane stage to get her to Austenland, a resort in England where she can pretend she's an Austen character. There are also two love interests, Austenland's premier attractions: J.J. Feild portrays an actor playing a Darcy type, while Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) is charged with tending to stable animals, maintaining the grounds and dealing with thirtysomething singletons who suffer existential crises when fantasy collides with reality.

There's an amusing sidebar set at the actors' bunks, where they strip themselves of their Regency garb and sun by the pool, talking trash about the dumb Americans whose fantasies they service. The picky viewer might grumble that it's not funny enough to justify its existence. Otherwise, the film is told entirely from Jane's perspective. Oh, and an attempted sexual assault is added to goose the plot, then unceremoniously dropped.

Most egregiously, first-time feature director Jerusha Hess (co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre) and her writing partner, Shannon Hale (on whose novel the film is based), don't seem eager to explore Jane's ardor for Austen's books: how she came to love them, what they mean to her, and why she has so long forgone human interaction for these fictional comforts. Jane could just as easily swoon for Star Wars, or Trollope, or torture porn. Any of those avenues might have yielded greater rewards than Austenland's amble from plot point to plot point until our heroine arrives, triumphant, at a last-reel kiss.

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