By Matt Singer
[Photo: Emily Blunt and Marc Blucas in “The Jane Austen Book Club,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]
The oft-quoted critic Robert Warshow once wrote “A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is a man.” That man has no place in the new chick flick “The Jane Austen Book Club,” a movie so thoroughly anti-dude for most of its running time that the only sensible male reaction to it is guilt.
The movie is about a group of disgruntled women (and one brave man) who form a book club to read the works of Jane Austen. Though they all have problems, they all manage to find salvation through Ms. Austen’s work, which apparently has all sorts of handy practical applications. I must acknowledge that I, like all the male characters in the film, have never read a Jane Austen novel. In my defense, I loved the recent adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice.” Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for “Clueless.”
It’s refreshing to see a movie that promotes literacy and, like the women of “The Jane Austen Book Club,” I also know the rush of excitement that comes from recognizing yourself in a great work of art. But is that feeling ever really as simple as this film makes it out to be? Does every single aspect of our lives have a correlation to the works of Jane Austen? Can every worldly dilemma be solved by picking up a copy of “Mansfield Park?”
The answer, as evidenced here, is yes. Austen can teach a bad lover to be better, or a bad listener to be better, or a bad husband to be better. You may sense a pattern, since, as in the style of so many chick flicks, nearly all the male characters are total pricks, from Jimmy Smits’ cheating bastard to Marc Blucas’ thoughtless bastard. The only likable guy in the bunch is Grigg (Hugh Dancy) a sci-fi nerd and potential suitor for a few of the JABC members, and he’s made out to be a Lycra-wearing buffoon. I’m not sure what’s more aggravating: that all the men are so horrible or that they all are magically rehabilitated through the power of “Emma.” Why don’t psychiatrists prescribe this stuff to their patients?
So the man watches the movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is a man, and that, in this case, the movie is not for the critic or the man. Jane Austen fans might love the film, and maybe the movie will encourage others to start their own book clubs, which could only be a good thing. But, to me, this feels like a well-made Lifetime movie. But then, how would I know what a Lifetime movie looks like? That’s TV for women, and I’m a man.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” opens in limited release on September 21st (official site).