A review of “The Jane Austen Book Club” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

 

Conventional comedy segues into poignant melodrama in the capable hands of director Robin Swicord.

I shudder at the term “chick flick” but “Jane” is a shining example of the genre, resplendent with feminine energy yet gently tweaking its masculine side.

For some, reading Austen is a literary minefield, but not for the devoted ladies who throw together an Austen book club on a wing and a prayer. They arrive at this place fresh from their painful places; Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) from a husband who prefers a co-worker to his wife, uptight schoolteacher Prudie (Emily Blunt) who’s questioning her own young union and commitment-phobe dog-breeder Jocelyn (Maria Bello).

Rounding out the Austen-ites is free-spirited founder Bernadette (Kathy Baker), Sylvia’s lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) and, horrors, a male software geek named Grigg (Hugh Dancy) who was invited as a lark.

The narrative treads lightly through the club’s escalating loves and hurts overlapping Austen’s ironic surveys of the privileged; not-so-strange bedfellows when you consider Austen’s penchant for the great potential of romance and the human spirit.

The warmth and camaraderie captures much of the Austen spirit. Not to mention that of the novel by the same name. Where’s there’s genuine sexual and emotional tension – surprise! – there’s also some spare and streamlined pacing. The ensemble cast shape-shifts with community and bonhomie with an eye to the notion of bonds.

Although not the classic of its namesake’s novels “Jane” is a perfectly polished charmer.