PG-13 for some pretty obvious innuendo. I think that's what the MPAA is really looking for. It doesn't feel like a PG movie, so thus it can't be a PG movie. But I'm going to talk about this in what I write: the movie really dances around the idea that his is a brothel. The rules of no-touching are very quickly ignored. Yeah, I think the movie should be PG-13, but maybe not for the reason that it gets. Technically, the movie is all about prostitution without actually saying the word "prostitution." A well-deserved PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jerusha Hess
So my school is among the many that is closed. I have no idea how this is going to affect me. Am I going to get more work done? Am I going to have less time for my blog? I don't know. Realize that work takes priority. I've been actually doing a pretty intense job with my work. I'm actually just using my lunch hour to get this written, so let's see how productive that actually makes me. I'm also really curious to see if my writing style changes knowing that I'm isolated from most of the world. As of right now, the staff is still coming to the building, but my room is pretty isolated and I'm obsessed with cleanliness. Really, things should be alright. I know my wife isn't happy. I don't know if this is the room I'll be in for the long haul, but we'll see.
A while ago, to raise money for Australia's wildfires (man, the world is falling apart. I just realized between Coronavirus and just everything being insane that maybe things aren't great out there), students bid on prize packages from their teachers. I decided to donate a free lunch and film club for the auction winner where the student got to pick the age-appropriate movie and some friends to join him or her. Well, we decided to cash that prize in. The only issue...she didn't know what movie to pick. We had just finished reading Pride & Prejudice and went to go see the Cincy Shakes version of the play, so I offered Austenland as an option. While my Viking Film Society tends to be more traditional classics, I realized that everyone in the room would finally get the Jane Austen jokes within Austenland. To skip ahead to the end, it went really well. Does that mean I love it? Probably not.
There are times that I remind myself that I'm a film snob. The biggest critique I have of Austenland is that it is just another rom-com given a little bit of street cred because of the Austen wallpaper. As I always do, I really encourage you to enjoy what you enjoy. Romantic comedies really have to be something special to me. I don't know why I don't appreciate this same philosophy with all comedies or all action movies, but romantic comedies really seem to go for a lot of the easy jokes. Jennifer Coolidge is a genius. She's one of the funniest comedians out there. But the movie knew they had her and just depended on her to make the movie funny. She's delivering these lines like butter, but what she's saying isn't all that funny. I think Keri Russell is in the exact same boat. Russell is famous for her role in Waitress, a movie I remember hating that everybody else likes. Admittedly, I was even less cool with rom coms back then, so keep that in mind. It's really banking on a lot of goodwill. Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie. That's some good will.
But I'm going to give a lot of points to one element of the movie. I love when a formula film disrupts the formula a bit. The Bret McKenzie fakeout is one of the best rom-com fakeouts I've ever seen. I don't think a movie has built up a character with enough good will only to throw it all away in one swift motion. This is the second time I've seen the movie and I was watching to see if it really worked. I mean, it doesn't work great, but it doesn't have any faults with the twist either. Yeah, it's intentionally a misdirection, but that's the point. Like, it tricked me. It did what it was supposed to do. I want to say that is a fault, but it isn't. At all. Sneakiness is fine. If you establish rules that people are allowed to lie and then they lie, that's fair play. I don't know why I love a good fakeout so much. I know I hate bad fakeouts, but that's kind of redeeming to the movie. The Bret McKenzie fakeout is great and I totally support it.
But let me talk about the oddest thing in the air. The world of Jane Austen is about courtly manners. It's the Regency Era and Jane herself is a bit of a silly character. It's a rom-com and they have to quickly define her quirkiness. I get it. But there are moments where Jane doesn't seem to understand the rules of Austen. It's like the first tend minutes establish her as this expert at the Regency Era. What did she think that she was going to get? It's absurd that she wouldn't be on board for absolute authenticity. But I've already been derailed...
This place is a brothel, right? I mean, we're dancing around it and claiming that it isn't a brothel. But it totally is a place for men to prostitute themselves for women. These women have a very specific fetish, I get that. But the movie starts with the promise that there will be no touching and the characters are constantly romancing one another. It just somehow looks charming. It's really weird that the movie really never addresses this. There are these fantastic moments where we get the behind-the-scenes of Austenland as a location. The actors step out of character and talk to each other from the perspective of the "real versions". But they aren't at all concerned with the fact that they have to sexually interact with these women. Because the movie is PG-13, it doesn't have the characters have intercourse. But there's that montage sequence with Jane. There's a lot more than flirtation going on. Also, the location promises romance for each of the guests. There's a really uncomfortable moment with that thought. It doesn't have romance as an option. It's part of the package (pun not intended). The end of the movie almost creeps that door open a bit, but that leads to the other element that is in the movie...
...Mr. Wattlesbrook. This movie is from 2013. That seems like is pretty recent. It's seven years ago. Remember how I had my high school seniors watch this movie? They were 11 when it came out. For them, this movie seemed ancient and I felt even more ancient when I did that math. It's so interesting to see how much culture has changed in the past few years. It's never been okay to aggressively manhandle a woman, especially in a sexual context. But Jane kind of gets over it way too easily in this movie. I'm White Knighting the crap out of this essay and I acknowledge that, but Jane doesn't really seem all that phased by it. Part of the tragedy is that probably are used to this kind of lewd behavior. But the other end of it is that it is an important plot point for the movie. Jane needs to take it in stride when it happens to keep the romance story going throughout the movie. But she also needs to be sexually exploited so that Jane Seymour can send both actors after her to win her back. She needs to hold a card over Austenland and that's the card they gave her.
It's kind of...cheap, that moment? It should be this really important part in the story. The movie has a real moment to provide commentary on society with Jane and Mr. Wattlesbrook, but it is afraid to go up against its subgenre. The movie's tone is frighteningly positive throughout. There's a "woman stepping out moment" that's in slow motion that just completely abandons all sense of reality. So to include this really dark moment kind of gives the message that it's simply okay to be harassed like that. (This white knight comes with a gallant horse and can lord his own morality over everyone, thank you very much!) To compound that, Jane allows Wattlesbrook to get away with it, without retribution. That's an even more problematic ending. She assumes that Wattlesbrook has done this before. She acknowledges that he might do it again. Yet, because she is emotionally distant from the act, she drops the lawsuit. So she's okay with it happening again? It's really bizarre. If Jennifer Coolidge didn't buy the place, would Wattlesbrook continue that act? Also, he's in that credit sequence, so eh?
I don't hate the movie, but it also really has this dark element that it is really trying to hide behind Jane Austen. I get why my wife probably didn't love the movie overall, but I don't know how much this movie really does for the Austen fan. Honestly, it's absolutely perfect for people who are just starting to understand Jane Austen and if they understand that there is a whole subculture about her out there. But Austenland really is just another romantic comedy. As far as newer romantic comedies go, it's not terrible. I got a few chuckles in. But on the other end, it's got some problems with it as well.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.