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Austenland depicts addiction as Keri goes merrye in Old England

by Mark Burger

Any hope that Austenland (**) will take a literal, or literary, approach to spoofing Jane Austen is dispelled around the time that the second or third pop-song montage sequence commences.

There are a few in-jokes (“Austenisms”?) for the Austen faithful, but Austenland quickly reveals itself to be a featherweight farce with a terminal case of the cutes. The film is not so much sweet as sugary, and as romantic comedies go it’s standard fluff.

Keri Russell, exceedingly perky and quirky, plays an American Austen aficionado — named “Jane,” which is a good indication of the film’s less-than-sparkling wit — who travels to the titular tourist destination in England. The British are collectively portrayed as snobbish and condescending, the Americans as brash and boisterous. Jennifer Coolidge, as a fellow American tourist (named “Elizabeth Charming”), tries her hardest not to be annoying, but the script cuts her no breaks.

Jane will undoubtedly land her own Prince Charming before the end credits, and if it’s not the hunky stable keeper Martin (Bret McKenzie), who impresses Jane by delivering a foal in record time, there are other available candidates (among them JJ Feild and James Callis). No fair telling who wins the winsome lass, nor is it a matter of great importance.

The period costumes are opulent and the English countryside never looked lovelier, so there are some surface distractions to engage the eye, if not much else. Director Jerusha Hess, also penned the screenplay with Shannon Hale (upon whose novel the film is based), has a tendency to randomly toss plot points out to see if anything will stick, but not much does.

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