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Becoming Jane (2007)

Miramax Home Video
DVD Released: 2/12/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video:
Audio: 1/2
Extras:

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/11/2008

Just to make sure that we are in alignment, when I speak of a biopic, I'm referring to a movie which tells the story of a famous or important person from history. There are basically three kinds of biopics; those which examine how a famous person came to be the person that they were; those which examine what a famous person did to become famous; and those which examine both. Becoming Jane, which tells the story of author Jane Austen, falls into the first category, as it examines Jane's early life and her family. However, I feel that many audience members would be more interested in seeing a Jane Austen film which fit the second category.

Anne Hathaway stars in Becoming Jane as Jane Austen, the author of such classic as Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. The story focuses on Jane's years when she was in her early 20s. Jane lives with her parents (James Cromwell and Julie Walters), and her father is the local pastor. Her sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) also lives with them. Cassandra is engaged, and Mrs. Austen is constantly urging Jane to find a young man as well. (The Austen's aren't wealthy and they are relying on their daughters to marry rich men in order to support the family.) However, Jane is very headstrong. She doesn't believe in marriage without love, and she's more interested in writing. Jane is courted by Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), but she finds him to be a "boobie". (Her word, not mine.) Jane then meets Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) a young law student from London who has been sent to live with his relatives. (He has angered his rich uncle in London, and thus was sent to the country as a punishment.) Jane find Tom to be rude and impudent, yet he is intelligent and she finds that she can actually converse with him. As drama swirls around Jane, she discovers that she has feelings for Tom, but society frowns on their relationship. Will Jane follow her heart, listen to her family, or become totally engrossed in her writing?

The world knows Jane Austen as an author of several novels which deal with relationships and societal rules in early 19th century England. In these novels, women are seen as strong, yet suppressed, people who are often questioned or shamed for their desires. The men in her world were often domineering, aloof, or buffoons.

The first rule of writing is to write what you know. Becoming Jane tells us that Austen did just that, as the story in the film feels incredibly similar to one of her books. If one didnít realize that there were watching a biography of Jane Austen, one might assume that the film was simply based on one of Janeís novels. Like the many protagonists from her novels, Jane knows that she must conform to the morals of the day, but itís also clear that she doesnít agree with them. (Still, Jane does follow the rules and is often adamant in doing so. See the scene where she wonít respond to Tom in the forest because thatís not something an unaccompanied lady would do.) However, Jane isnít afraid to rebel, such as in the scene where she joins the men for a game of cricket. Jane knows that her mother is expecting her to marry, yet her father isnít against Jane following her heart. She spends much of her free time writing, yet she canít seem to get Tom from her mind.

Becoming Janeís resemblance to a Jane Austen novel is both its blessing and its curse. The makers of the film have does an amazing job with the costuming and production design, and we really get the feel for Janeís time-period. While some liberties have been taken with Janeís story -- with the changing of names and melding of characters -- we still get an interesting view of her life. And yet, die-hard Jane Austen fans may be more inclined to seek out Austenís fiction instead of viewing her life story. Again, the story her is quite similar to those found in Austenís novels, but itís lacking something. I can only assume that because this is a true story that the drama should carry more weight. Yet, I felt quite distant from the film and found much of it to be predictable. Despite a 2-hour running time, the movie never seems to tell all of its story and the plethora of characters which come and go throughout the movie donít aid in this cause.

I know that itís a moot point, but my biggest problem with Becoming Jane isnít with what it is, but what it isnít. Throughout the film, Jane is told that women shouldnít have imagination or humor and that she cannot make a living with her writing. But, this story concludes before she has any of her novels published. I would have been much more interested in seeing how Jane overcame the establishment and got her books into print rather than seeing how her real life influenced her writing. Yes, I realize that her books may not have become what they are if she hadnít lead the life which she did, but the film could have easily balanced both Janeís personal and professional life. (For an example with similar themes, see Miss Potter.) As it stand, Becoming Jane is a very middle-of-the-road biopic. It showcases a portion of Jane Austenís life and explains why she wrote what she did, but we donít necessarily learn how she became an author.

Becoming Jane stands up for women on DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source print. The film contains many daytime exterior scenes, and these look good, as they arenít overly bright. The colors in these scenes look very nice, especially the greens. I didnít note any distracting video noise or artifacting, but there were some shimmering effects and the picture lacked in detail in some scenes. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, the dialogue is the most important aspect here and it sounds fine. We get some nice stereo effects and the exterior scenes, especially those in the forest, supply some surround sound effects.

The Becoming Jane DVD contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Julian Jarrold, writer Kevin Hood, and producer Robert Bernstein. This is an OK commentary, but none of the speakers are overly enthusiastic. In fact, the talk is quite dry at times. But, they do a fine job of pointing out that some of the details of Austen life are sketchy, and thus they navigate the viewer through the parts of the film where facts were enhanced or changed. They also describe the locations in great detail. The DVD contains 13 DELETED SCENES, which run some 20 minutes. The bulk of these are simply dialogue scenes which expand ideas already presented in the finished film. There is some additional information here, but no new subplots and only one new character introduced. "Discovering the Real Jane Austen" (17 minutes) only slightly touches on the real-life facts of Austen. The bulk of this piece is actually a making-of which focuses on the film and the lengths which were taken to re-create the period. We get a nice selection of comments from the cast and filmmakers, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. Finally, we have "Becoming Jane Pop-up Facts & Footnotes" which, when selected, provides the viewer with on-screen facts about the life of Jane Austen, the period in which she lived, and some info about the movie.

Miramax has also brought Becoming Jane to Blu-ray Disc. Again, the film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image looks very good here, as itís very sharp and clear. Again, the exterior scenes look fantastic, but unlike the DVD, the detail here is excellent and these shots have a great deal of depth. The greens of the fields and forests leap off of the screen. The video here isnít reference quality, but when seen side-by-side with an already nice looking DVD, one can see the difference. However, there are problems with the audio. The disc has a Linear PCM 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and 6.9 Mbps. Iíve viewed over 70 Blu-ray Discís and Iíve never had ones with audio problems like this. In short, the dynamic range is way off. The dialogue is muffled and the sound effects are quite loud. I found myself constantly adjusting the volume, as I couldnít hear the actors and then Iíd be blown away by a passing carriage. This was annoying, and given the superior audio of most Blu-rays, unacceptable. (I watched 2 Blu-rays at normal volume after viewing this one to confirm that it wasnít a hardware problem.)

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long