There’s probably a good idea in “Austenland,” a sloppy romantic comedy about a Jane Austen-loving, 30-something American woman who travels to England to immerse herself in the British writer’s early 19th century milieu.
But whatever good stuff that might have been in “Austenland” is lost in this poorly realized film adaptation of Shannon Hale’s novel. Although Hale co-wrote the script with the film’s first-time director, Jerusha Hess (writer of “Napoleon Dynamite”), “Austenland” still trips into amateurish farce.
Former “Felicity” actress Kerri Russell, who was so perfect in 2007’s indie-film charmer, “Waitress,” stars as Jane Hayes. Single lady Jane’s apartment is a shrine to the author of “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice.”
Jane nevertheless splurges on a trip to Austenland, an sort of theme park that purports to immerse its patrons in an authentic Regency-era experience. “Every stay at Austenland,” promises proprietress Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), “ends with a real-life ball.”
Jane finds immediate disappointment. The large amount of money she’s spent to visit the place entitles her to only budget-level accommodations. Even in her fantasy, Jane is a poor relation.
A group of actors court and flatter Austenland’s guests. Jane, Jennifer Coolidge’s Miss Elizabeth Charming and Georgia King’s Lady Amelia Heartwright get much attention.
The men of Austenland include Col. Andrews (the amusingly affected James Callis), stable man Martin (Bret McKenzie) and, the most Mr. Darcy-like of the lot, Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Field).
The actors in the cast give real performances, but the actresses are in a world of their own. They’re loopy enough to have been drinking on the set.
“Austenland” never finds its footing. Backstage maneuvering is showing in this odd romantic comedy disaster.