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The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/5/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/28/2008
Any Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans here? (Would MST3K fans click on a review of this movie?) Those familiar with the show know that Joel/Mike and the robots would not only make jokes about the movies which they watched, but they would often talk to the movie. My favorite example of this would occur when a movie wasn't giving them enough information. "Movie? Movie? Hello?" I made some similar remarks while watching The Jane Austen Book Club. I thought that I would be watching a movie, not actually attending a Jane Austen book club.
The Jane Austen Book Club tells the story of a group of friends. Jocelyn (Maria Bello), who breeds dogs, have just lost one of her prize males and is very distraught over this. Following this sad news, Daniel (Jimmy Smits) announcing that he is leaving his wife of 20 years, Sylvia (Amy Brenneman). Bernadette (Kathy Baker), the caretaker of the group, meets a sad young woman named Prudie (Emily Blunt) at a Jane Austen film festival and they begin talking. Prudie is unhappy about her marriage and is very depressed. Bernadette decides that she will get all of her friends together to form a book club where they will read six novels by Jane Austen. Meanwhile, while attending a convention, Jocelyn meets a young man named Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who is clearly into reading, so she invites him to the club. Sylvia's daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) completes the group. While the friends feel comfortable, Prudie and Grigg must feel their way into the group, and it quickly becomes evident that there's more going on than a simple discussion of books. Jocelyn wants to play match-maker with Grigg and Sylvia and Prudie vents her frustration with her husband through the books. Clearly, Jane Austen brings out strong emotions in people.
In case you can't tell, The Jane Austen Book Club is a "chick flick". I don't normally seek out these films, but I'm also a fan of good movies, so if a "chick flick" is a good movie, I have no problem acknowledging this fact. But, movies like this clearly aren't aimed at me. In fact, this particular film is aimed at those who are familiar with the works of Jane Austen. When the characters discuss the books, they really break them down and discuss the characters and meanings of the novels. They don't slow down to elaborate for the ignorant, they simply plow on, shutting out those who have never read Austen and weren't really paying attention during movies based on Austen's books. The fact that this will alienate part of the audience is unavoidable. The sad thing is that this problem could have easily been fixed. Grigg is an Austen novice and he should have been a conduit to the audience members who weren't versed in Austen. The other characters could have walked him through an Austen primer. But no, Grigg suddenly becomes an expert as well, and viewers like me are left out in the cold.
Not only does this make the film feel pretentious and elitist, it also makes parts of the film drag. There are several book club scenes in the film and they may have well as been in another language. Despite the fact that the characters are having heated debates at time, the dialogue all runs together, and these scenes rarely move the plot forward.
Having said all of that, there is some good drama in The Jane Austen Book Club. The characters are fairly well drawn out and interesting, save for Prudie, who is too much of a stereotype to believe. The dynamic between Jocelyn and Grigg is good, and even those who are turned off by the rest of the movie will have an opinion about the relationship between Sylvia and Daniel. Even a subplot with Allegra and her lover is interesting. And while there is romance in the movie, it isn't the sort of fairy tale thing that we usually find in these films. If the movie could have simply been a "slice of life" film which explored the lives of these characters, it may not have been original, but it could have been interesting. And the fact that these people have a book club certainly could make a good backdrop for a movie. However, writer/director Robin Swicord never strikes a good balance between the drama and the book club scenes and viewers will find themselves waiting for one or the other. Again, I'm not afraid to identify a good "chick flick" and this one just misses the mark.
The Jane Austen Book Club falls in love on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This transfer looks very good, as the image is quite sharp and clear. The exterior scenes look fantastic. I noted only a hint of grain here and no defects from the source material. Skin tones look fine and the colors are natural looking and realistic. There were trace amounts of video noise in some shots and a few lacked in detail, but overall the video was notably good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven dramedy, we are treated to only a few noticeable occurrences of surround sound or subwoofer effects, but there are a few exterior scenes where ambient noise fills the speakers. The important thing is that the dialogue is always intelligible and there's no distortion or hissing here.
The Jane Austen Book Club DVD contains a compilation of extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY which features writer/director Robin Swicord, actors Maggie Grace, Hugh Dancy & Marc Blucas, producer Julie Lynn, and editor Maryann Brandon. This is a good commentary, as the group discusses many facet's the film's production. From the challenge of shooting on a tight budget to the costumes to the props, the groups covers many items. They also talk a great deal about the actors and the amount of fun which was had on-set. "Behind-the-Scenes of The Jane Austen Book Club" (19 minutes) features clips from the movie and copious comments from the cast and filmmakers. There is a great deal of discussion about the casting and characters. We then get a look at the production of the film and director Robin Swicord on the set. "The Life of Jane Austen" (22 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, as it examines the life and career of Jane Austen. Interesting fact, none of her books were published under her name until after her death. "The Book Club: Deconstructed" (12 minutes) reveals how the characters in the film mirror certain characters or character types in Jane Austen's novels. "Walking the Red Carpet: Los Angeles Premiere" (3 minutes) features footage and comments from the event. The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES which run (7 minutes). All of which are brief and don't introduce any new ideas.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also brought The Jane Austen Book Club to Blu-ray Disc. The film is again letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. Although the DVD transfer looks good, this version looks even better. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing nary a speck of grain and no defects from the source material. The exterior scenes are gorgeous and they look as if the go one forever. The color are realistic, but not overly vibrant. There was no artifacting or video noise to be had here. The audio on the disc is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. Again, the nature of this film doesn't lend itself to any showy or bombastic audio stunts. The important thing is that the audio is very clear and distinct. The dialogue is always audible and is not overwhelmed by any sound effects. The exterior scenes do yield some surround action and the score sounds very good.
The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long