Ralph Nelson
Karen Valby
February 01, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Jane Austen Book Club

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
runtime
105 minutes
Limited Release Date
09/21/07
performer
Emily Blunt, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits
director
Robin Swicord
distributor
Sony Pictures Entertainment
author
Robin Swicord
genre
Romance, Drama

We gave it a C+

In the perfectly fair Jane Austen Book Club, a woman proclaims that her favorite author is the perfect antidote. ”To what?” her friend wonders. ”To life.”

Any fan, from the casual admirer of Austen’s novels to the Janeite who has a freeze-frame of a soaking-wet Colin Firth in the beloved BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice hanging on her vanity mirror, knows the truth behind this exchange. The heroines have marvelous pluck, dances end with pressed hands and flushed cheeks, and goodness and humor always prevail. Book Club — Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 best-seller about modern-day Californians who escape their troubles by reading a different Austen work each month — tapped into not just the joy we find in her prose but also the hope that our lives might mirror such fantasies.

But the film, lacking the zip and sparkle of, say, an Austen adaptation like 1996’s Emma, feels flat-footed. Of the cast, only Emily Blunt and Hugh Dancy arouse much interest: Blunt, such prickly fun in The Devil Wears Prada, is quite stirring as a depressed French teacher on the verge of stepping out on her lug of a husband (Marc Blucas). And Dancy, wasted in the drippy Evening, is a doll as a sci-fi nut, the group’s sole male member. However cute the parallels between Austen’s plots and the characters’ own romantic dilemmas — Maria Bello‘s dog breeder would rather matchmake than insert herself into any affair (how very Emma Woodhouse!) — don’t be surprised if you find your attention waning, as you bemoan the fact that you’re 200 pages behind on your own book-club reading. C+

More Austen? See Karen Valby’s review of Becoming Jane on DVD

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