The Jane Austen Book Club
Jane Austen never married and apparently had only brief encounters with love, yet she managed to craft loquacious characters that have plenty to say about the intricate schemes and intriguing plots of romance. Over the years, her chatty subjects have inspired movies like Clueless, Bridget Jones's Diary and Bride and Prejudice, in addition to film versions of her books. Her own life also provided material for theatrical productions such as Jane Austen in Manhattan and Becoming Jane.
In The Jane Austen Book Club, five females -- all avid Austen fans -- form a book club in order to distract Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), a group member, from the messy details of her impending divorce. Another literary insider named Jocelyn (Maria Bello) also invites a young man to join the group in hopes of helping the separated Sylvia regain her self-confidence around members of the opposite sex. Unfamiliar with Austen's prose but comfortable with ladies, Grigg (Hugh Dancy) eagerly begins digesting a massive, leather-bound compilation of the novels so he can get in on the discussions.
Other attendees include Bernadette (Kathy Baker), a repeat presence in divorce court herself who is on the lookout for husband number seven. She meets a disillusioned young wife and high school teacher named Prudie (Emily Blunt) whose marriage threatens to be undone by an illicit affair she is tempted to have with one of her students. Unable to turn to her pot-smoking mother (Lynn Redgrave) for counsel, Prudie is in desperate need of some sound female advice. Rounding out the group is Sylvia's passionate, spontaneous daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) who rushes in and out of her lesbian relationships at the first suggestion of trouble.
Using Austen's work as a kind of moral compass in a romantically unsettled world, these groupies assign an almost biblical importance to the books. Meeting regularly during the span of a year, they share their opinions and perspectives while at the same time being forced to face the ups and downs of their own real-life relationships.
Smartly scripted with scenes seemingly drawn from Austen's own fiction, the screenplay gives audiences a healthy dose of life imitating art. However mature themes of adultery, infidelity and improper teacher-student relations, along with Allegra's brief but sensual on-screen activities with her partners, make Jane Austen's Book Club unsuitable for many audience members. Yet despite the distracting detours of adult content, this film, like most of Jane Austen's novels, is determined to give older audiences a glimmer of hope by championing the value of marital bliss.