Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Film Night : : Jane Austen Book Club

This week Anne McAllister talks about how seeing the world of relationships in the 21st century through the lens of The Jane Austen Book Club is a cinematic treat.

Ever since I saw The Big Chill a very long time ago now, I've been intrigued by ensemble casts and interwoven stories. That could be why I write entire universes of linked books myself.

So when The Jane Austen Book Club came along, combining my favorite things -- Jane Austen, books, films and reading (as far as I can see, the only things they left out were chocolate and Hugh-in-a-towel), I was hooked.

What's it about? All of the above naturally, plus how reading books can illuminate and add perspective and understanding to our lives.

It is about a particular book club, begun by Bernadette (Kathy Bates), a woman of a certain age with more than a few divorces under her belt, who wants to cheer her friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello) after the death of a beloved dog. From there the book club grows -- not by adding friends, but almost by chance encounters.

And before long there are six including Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) whose husband (Jimmy Smits) has just undermined her belief that they have a happy marriage by asking for a divorce, Prudie (Emily Blunt), a teacher as repressed as her name who finds her own marriage on shaky ground, Allegra (Maggie Grace), Sylvia's lesbian daughter with relationship troubles of her own, and the one male member of the group, Grigg (Hugh Dancy) who may not be Hugh-in-a-towel, but is definitely worth watching -- and has an agenda of his own.

The plan is for the six of them to read six Austen books over a period of six months, get together and discuss them. And they do.

And as they do, the characters share -- as people in book clubs do -- not only the books, but their lives. The books they read form a commentary on the events they are dealing with -- the questions they ask: Am I making the right choice? Is he the man for me? Is she the right woman? Did I make a mistake? Is this worth fighting for? Am I missing something right in front of my eyes?

There are echoes in the books, in the dilemmas, in the dialogue so that the characters as they live and read and interact find their lives challenged and enriched by the experience both of the books and their relationships with each other.

There are short breaks in the action where we actually watch them reading -- breaks which are rather like when we watched the couples in When Harry Met Sally talk about their marriages or when those in Reds reflected on life and history and relationships, but which don't add as much substance to the story. Still, they serve as breathers, markers for passages of time. They effectively give distance and perspective to the story.

Is it one of the all-time great films. No. That's asking too much of it.

But it's a well-acted, well-written and directed (by Robin Swicord) adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's 2004 book. As readers and lovers of romance novels, this is a film we should embrace. It takes books to a movie audience and shows them that there's value in taking time to read.

And maybe it will introduce a few more people to Jane Austen who might still think she only writes "stuffy classics" (hard to imagine). In any case, for those of us who already know she's worth spending time with over and over -- and over -- it's a great way to spend an evening.

Gather your friends -- especially those who love Austen -- and put in the DVD, sit back and enjoy!

What are some of the films about books that are your favorites?

Gunnar, my film critic dog, will pick a winner from commenters while I'm on vacation. I'll post the winner (he doesn't type, much to his consternation, but he's working to develop voice recognition software for dogs) at the end of the comments when I get back on August 13th. So check back here or on my blog then.

Anne McAllister is recovering from San Francisco by going to Washington state to visit sons and daughters-in-law and grandkids. She's enjoying herself and hopes you are, too!

She also just got the hardback cover for
Antonides' Forbidden Wife -- a Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern (hb Sept, pb Nov) and Harlequin Presents (Jan 09).


  1. Newcomer here. Enjoying the blog.

    I can't recall watching too many films about books. Does "Stranger Than Fiction" count? I enjoyed that one, and it looks like I may have to rent this one. Thanks for the post : )

  2. Oh I have to rent this now for sure!

    You know I am a sucker for miniseries based on books. So North and South, The Forsyte Saga, Hornblower come to mind. Not to mention all the wonderful adaptations out there (Hugh Dancy in Daniel Deronda, anyone???). But hands down my favourite of late is CRANFORD. Not so much of a romance but a weaving of lives together that was nothing short of brilliant. I love it when I watch something and care about the characters so deeply.

  3. Thanks for this. I'd heard the film was much, much better than the book and it sounds as if that's true so I'll ,look out for it. I'm a big Jane Austen fan but didn't enjoy the bookclub book at all.

  4. I have never watched movies about books. But movies like Harry Potter are always so disappointing. The books is always so much better. The only movie that was great is A&E's Pride and Predijuce. That movie was pretty much word for word the same as the book and I loved it. Thanks for the great post.

  5. I have to rent this movie. I enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with my daughter. They have the second one coming out now so I'm looking forward to seeing it.

  6. I'm going to rent it. I've enjoyed some of Grisham's made into movies from his books as well as Barbara Taylor Bradford's.

    Your M&B cover is fabulous.

  7. Hi all of you,
    I didn't think I would get here to comment, but I am standing in the street of Manson WA, outside the library using the internet inside (it's closed) so I can touch base briefly.

    The Jane A book club is a fun film. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. And yes, Hugh Dancy was lovely.

    Thanks, Marilyn, for your comment on my cover. I am glad you like it. I did.

  8. I just watched this movie a few weeks ago and really enjoyed. I agree about Hugh Darcy! He's wonderful in the film.