Story on author Jane Austen’s life lacks … well, life
For someone who has been dead nearly 200 years, English author Jane Austen seems pretty lively still. With six novels to choose from (Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northhanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion for all you non-English-lit majors) it seems that each one (well, aside from the really dark one) gets yet another adaptation every year or so.
With Austen being such the cinematic go-to girl, it seemed inevitable that some scribe would get it in his or her tiny little head to take the Shakespeare in Love route and base a script on the author as subject herself. Too bad the scribes here seemed more intent on cashing in on an easy sale than exploring the subject thoroughly and bringing forth anything of substance. Even worse, the film comes across as calculating and shallow as a Harlequin romance. But seeing as the bodice-rippers are part of the largest genre in publishing, I suppose Becoming Jane fills a niche.
Ostensibly based on Austen’s letters, the movie starts off as essentially a cartoon, with young Jane pounding on a piano and creating such a cacophony that cats scurry and pigs squeal. I was hoping that James Cromwell would drop in early to murmur, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” But, alas and alack, no.
From there we reel off across the Irish landscapes as Jane meets a young rogue of promising matrimonial material. Of course, since the plot depends on parallels and backstory that lead to the writing of her first book, you pretty much know where this is all going to go if you’ve seen any of the 10 or so adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.
Along the way, stars Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy banter in that self-satisfied manner that marks the lesser period pieces, as arch dialogue is exchanged and sharp wits are wielded like dull blades in a jaw-achingly twee manner, to the point that the whole exercise plays like caffeine-fueled third-string players in a Shakespeare in the Park farce. When things take a turn for the worse toward the end (you know, to emphasize the pathos behind the burgeoning spinster’s supposed roman à clef), it comes as an almost welcome relief. Finally, stop with all the twinkling.
But hey, if nothing else, the scenery is gorgeous. Slightly chewed, but still gorgeous.