Dailies: Back Talk, Jane Austen Style

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As you know from previous posts, I like my TV and movies to be well-written and not just visually appealing. In fact, I’m a little disappointed when—in Hugo (2011), for example—the emphasis is all on visual spectacle, at the detriment of the script. (More on this Scorsese “flick” next week, when I’ll cover some films that talk about filmmaking.) In the spirit of this emphasis on writing, I originally wanted to explore some of the movie lines suggested by my lovely readers, and maybe talk about what makes them great or memorable. Instead (as you’ll see below), I thought I’d simply pick one suggested TV show or film, and make that the subject of my “Dailies.”

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007): A.A.’s Pick

“What are you, Mark Twain?” This was a movie line mentioned by one of you; I admit, I was not familiar with it. And a clip with this quote was not readily available on YouTube, though the film does not seem to be terribly well-known. The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) was written and directed by Robin Swicord, who adapted Karen Joy Fowler’s best-selling novel. I have to say that I was sold after watching the trailer, in which we get the following premise: a book club comprising five women and one man get together to read and discuss six books by famous English novelist Jane Austen. I’m familiar with most of the Austen books, so I thought that might enrich my viewing of the film; and I was tickled by the idea of a lone man joining the group, wondering how that would pan out. I found the movie, after a bit of digging, and here are my thoughts.

I’ll make this brief, in keeping with my usual “Dailies” format, and just say that I was charmed by the interaction between the one male reader, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), and the rest of the female club members: the organizer Bernadette (Kathy Baker), the eventual love interest Jocelyn (Maria Bello), the aptly named Prudie (Emily Blunt), the recently divorced Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), and Sylvia’s lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace). Grigg’s an avid science fiction fan (how about that?), and so we expect it to clash terribly with the reading tastes of the women. And that’s initially what happens, though as the story proceeds, we are given a little window into the reading lives of Grigg and the other women, and we get to watch as they share their tastes, adapt to each other, and (in a few cases), fall in love.

I have to agree with Roger Ebert, who noted that the film does an admirable job of celebrating books and reading. It distills Austen’s most important arguments about love, relationships, men and women through the members who, Ebert rightly says, “really do seem to have read the books and talk like they have.” That includes science-fiction books, which, though apparently so far removed in time and space from the world of Pride and Prejudice (1813) or Emma (1815), are shown (by the ebullient Grigg) to have something in common with women’s lit. (Watch the film and you’ll see how that’s accomplished.)

Is this a “chick flick”? Like Roger Ebert, I’m not overly fond of this term since it’s obviously intended to demean and debase (as “sci-fi” has, at least at one point in the history of that genre’s development). Here’s what the Grand Master movie critic had to say about the matter:

You could say that Austen created Chick Lit and therefore Chick Flicks. You could, but I would not, because I despise those terms as sexist and ignorant. As a man, I would hate to have my tastes condescended to by the opposite of Chick Lit, which, according to Gloria Steinem, is Prick Lit. I read Jane Austen for a simple reason, not gender-related: I cannot put her down and often return to her in times of trouble.

Well, that’s how I feel about Austen; and now, thanks to a good script (and strong adaptation), I couldn’t turn off The Jane Austen Book Club.  

Tomorrow’s “Dailies” will say a little something about Donnie Darko (another suggestion by one of YOU). And, for next week? I’ll make a decision on my next “Why We Love…” (which, I think it’s fair to say now, will be strictly focused on TV).

What’s it gonna be, folks? Give me your vote!

  • Twin Peaks

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  • The X-Files

  • Dexter

  • Fringe

  • The Wire (new suggestion)

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