Where have I BEEN? – THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

February 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jane Austen portrait“Six Californians start a club to discuss the works of Jane Austen, only to find their relationships — both old and new — begin to resemble 21st century versions of her novels….” says the IMDb website log line about the 2007 movie (Robin Swicord wrote the screenplay and directed) based on Karen Joy Fowler’s book.

I’m not obsessed with Jane Austen, but why didn’t someone knock me down and make me see this film the minute it came out?  It would have saved me the wondering why I felt like the only one walking around with more problems than I could handle and two heads to boot.  For that matter, I guess I could re-read Austen’s works and remind myself women have been being women, and people people, to credit her fully, forever.

The movie starts with a quick five minutes flick past scenes of life’s little inconveniences- bank machines that balk; gas pumps that go stupid; and a funeral-  for, we quickly learn, a favorite dog.

At first I thought, oh, no, another romp through Hollywood’s version of how to start a chick-flick.  There’s  tall-dark-handsome Jimmy Smits playing wayward husband, Daniel.  Somebody’s gonna get drunk and laid at the reception.

Nope.  Jocelyn (played by Maria Bello, a would-be lawyer turned actor thank goodness) the woman throwing the full blown funeral for her dog, turns out admits she really misses him (she shows dogs) but she’s honestly partial to her main show dog, her “sexually altered bitch.”  She admits this to the only male member of the Jane Austen book group, Grigg (played by Brit Hugh Dancy of the square jaw and startling blue?green? eyes and, yes, great thighs) and he gulps appropriately.  She says it with a direct stare.  He’s sweet on her.  She has no idea, at that point.

Go to the IMBd website for full cast, full pitch.  Or go rent the darn movie if you haven’t’ seen it.  FABULOUS film, I think.  As does Jane, it portrays people very authentically.  I want to live where they do and be their friend.  I think even my husband wouldn’t mind living in their world.  The movie’s not just a chick flick.

I just want to mention two more players.  Three.  Vanessa Redgrave makes a startling entry/exit as a hippie mother, a small part but seared on my brain now; the pathos of scars she left in her daughter’s little girl heart for the now-grown woman, Prudie (played by Emily Blunt) to undo.

Emily Blunt, a true prude as Prudie.  Wow.

And Bernadette (played by Kathy Baker, whose parents were Quakers and whose early career included work as a pastry chef and the stage with playwright Sam Shepard- why don’t we see more of her?  Okay, maybe it’s just me.  I’ll look.)  Bernadette has been married six times, and adds another to the list at the end of the film.  Go girl.  She starts the book club.  After the dog’s funeral.  Scoops up a weepy total stranger, Prudie, from a line forming at a movie theatre, pulls her together over drinks and side-wrangles her into joining what’s to be the J.A. book club.   God, I wish she were my neighbor.  I woke up crying over something stupid this morning.  I could have used her company.

Bernadette points out two things to her cronies that caught my copy-down-on-paper-scrap attention.  Two Austen themes, but, for my purposes, considering portrayals of women in film, really important, I thought.

First, “the humbling of the pretty, know it all girl” that spoke, in the movie, particularly to Prudie but is, I think, something that, done well, is done very rarely in garden variety films.  Think, however, about how true to our own maturation process this humbling of the “pretty girl” ego hits.  Written well, by Austen; and scripted and played well in the way this movie’s ensemble cast does it, the humbling growth that every woman will encounter in her life, and hopefully accept as a bonafide gift from the little gods who make her more beautiful by wrinkling her gradually; humbling growth is a powerful part of the female experience to actually capture in an art form, to hold still, to show at all.  This soft little movie does that.

And finally, Bernadette points out that Austen lets men explain themselves.  Men.  Heaven knows we women crave explanation of what it is, slamming around up there in those male brains, causing those man-acts, that muddles our perfectly sane and reasonable female sensibilities and causes us such turmoil, irritation, grief, stress, pain, heartache, confusion.  And makes us love them, too.

Okay, I’ve gone on too long.  But I’m awfully glad I finally watched the movie.  Where have I BEEN, girl?  Where have I been?

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