Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG for chaste romance et al
Run Time: Two hours
Unless you have something new to say don’t say it all. Lesson learned from yet another Jane Austen re-tread that trots out its tired themes with 18th century goodness.
Early confusion, pacing problems and silly scripting dog the narrative – a quixotic comedy that puts young Jane herself (Anne Hathaway) front and center in a romantic roundelay not unlike those that she penned for her devoted readers. You know the type -- relentlessly quippy philosophizing and V-for-virtuous protestations of love not lust.
As in most Austen projects Jane’s parents (Julie Walters and James Cromwell) are searching for a suitable husband to guarantee their daughter’s future social standing. The pair have their eye on the nephew of a rich widowed aristocrat (Maggie Smith reprising this role for the umpteenth time) who disapproves of Jane’s spirited and independent ways.
Naturally Jane falls for the rogue in the form of an arrogant and dashing Irishman named Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Their frisky flirtation is fraught with social risk but the irrepressible Jane stubbornly thinks with her heart and not her head – refusing to marry for position. Art imitating life imitating art or something like that.
Somewhat surprisingly “Jane” finally finds its groove late in the game, turning dark and dramatic when least expected. A spirited energy infects specific scenes, among them a jolly co-ed cricket match that has Title Nine written all over it and the ubiquitous but sprightly ballroom encounter.
McAvoy is a bit too aware of his “It Boy” status but it works to spark a come-hither attraction to Hathaway’s glimmer and wit. Climax is effectively weepy for serious fans of the genre.