Robin Swicord's 'The Jane Austen Book Club' (2007)

The Jane Austen Book Club is about as bland of a "chick flick" as one can find. With perhaps one exception, writer-director Robin Swicord forsakes character development and relies on comfortable stock characters related by visual cues. Sylvia's husband recently left her for another woman and she is still recovering from the divorce, which we can tell because her hair is always messy. Jocelyn is the self-reliant, fortysomething single who is too closed off for a real relationship, which we know because she has a lot of pets. Bernadette is a middle-aged bohemian with lots of previous marriages, evident because of her spiky haircut and colorful clothing. Prudie feels trapped in her marriage and ignored by her husband, and she's uptight because hello! severe bob and high-necked clothing. Also, her name is Prudie. While I wouldn't say that Allegra, Sylvia's impulsive, lesbian daughter, or Grigg, the sweet-natured, young love interest, are stock characters necessarily, both characters remain seriously underdeveloped, especially Allegra. If you've read Austen, then you can figure out where the women's storylines are headed, and the final scene is so saccharine and contrived that I couldn't bear to watch it in its entirety.

While the screenplay definitely lacks originality, what the film does have going for it is a cast of very likeable actors. Amy Brenneman and Maria Bello are both very under-appreciated and underused actresses, in my opinion, and Maggie Grace and Emily Blunt are two up-and-coming young actors to watch out for. Even though Prudie's storyline is far from fresh, Blunt plays the role as if it had never been done before, and I found her performance the most affecting. Hugh Dancy is charming as the well-intentioned but baffled Grigg, and he really clicks with Bello. Similarly, Jimmy Smits and Brenneman are well-matched, but Smits doesn't get enough screentime to make much of an impression. Marc Blucas, a.k.a. Captain Cardboard from Buffy, lives up to his nickname and is poorly paired with Blunt.

The Jane Austen Book Club does get points for presenting Allegra's sexuality as a non-issue, and even though she never kisses one of her girlfriends on screen (maybe to make this mainstream film acceptable to its target "Middle America" audience) Swicord manages to make the more intimate scenes pretty sexy. However, I'm a little irked that only Allegra doesn't have a partner at the end of the film, though I admit it fits with her character. Her having yet another girlfriend would have been preferable to the insinuation that the lesbian is fated to end up alone.