The film version of The Jane Austen Book Club is an entertaining fairytale in which wandering spouses see the error of their ways, tech millionaires live in Sacramento tract homes, and book club members show up for meetings having actually finished the book. Fans of the novel will probably also enjoy the movie, but may be troubled by some of its modifications.
Bernadette (Kathy Baker) starts a book club devoted to Austen’s work as a way of cheering up her circle of friends, who are all mourning various losses: dog-breeder Jocelyn (Maria Bello), bereft over the death of one of her prize ridgebacks; high school French teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt), disappointed over a cancelled trip to Paris; and librarian Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), whose husband has left her for another woman. Jocelyn also invites Grigg (Hugh Dancy)-who’s never read Austen-to join, in hopes he’ll provide a romantic distraction for Sylvia.
Even those unfamiliar with Austen’s oeuvre will find the group’s discussions of her novels lively and engaging, but the literary analysis is really just a running commentary on the tangled relationships of the club’s members. Grigg is a true 21st-century romantic hero: sensitive, intellectually curious, eco-conscious, and a good dancer; but Prudie’s flirtation with a student may make some viewers a bit queasy-even though pains are taken to show he’s not a minor.
It’s a pleasure to see onscreen characters making emotional connections by sharing cherished novels with each other, but some of the choices made in adapting the book are vexing. Although the film provides a vehicle for several talented actresses, most of the main characters are at least 10 years younger than their novelistic counterparts. And if marital discord for Prudie’s character had to be invented, was it necessary to make her husband (Marc Blucas) such an oaf? Finally, one wonders whether Grigg was portrayed as a wealthy man because viewers wouldn’t regard a man of modest means as a suitable romantic partner-and any true Austen fan can tell you the answer to that question.