I suppose The Jane Austen Book Club (Robin Swicord, USA, 2007) does exactly what it’s intended to do—it’s a fluffy, effervescent modern romance tale with a(n extremely) thin veneer of pseudo-literariness, compliments of the ever-oh-so-en vogue Jane Austen who has become this kind of fetishized symbol of courtship and unattainable romance. Once you get past the glaring reality that this imitation is in no way an adequate substitution for the original, it’s quite pleasant in its low-key kind of way. The film assembles a formidable cast of female acting talent—Maria Bello, Amy Brennamen, Kathy Baker, Maggie Grace and the ever-talented superstar-in-the-making Emily Blunt—not exactly a roster of “A List” talent, but from a more under-the-radar brand of actress who does an extremely fine job at fleshing out portraits of women who are damaged and maybe a touch eccentric, but who are also immediately recognizable. They’re the type of unassuming, rarely-heralded performances that feel genuinely “lived in.”
The material itself is unfortunately riddled with contrivances as events in the character’s lives mirror the latest Austen book they are reading for their book club, and when the conclusion rolls around with Austen-esque reconciliation and marital happiness for everyone involved (which isn’t a spoiler, btw) it comes off as particularly unsatisfying, even borderline insipid (if anything, it just emphasizes how much skill went into Austen’s novels). Basically, the material is rubbish but the caliber of the performances and some of the offhand moments means it can’t be wholly dismissed either.