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Jane Austen Book Club (movie)

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Finally saw the movie of The Jane Austen Book Club.

For some reason, I had gotten the impression that it wasn't very good, and/or wasn't a very good adaptation of the book. Perhaps partly because the book plays so much with point of view and flashback and wry commentary, in a very literary way (I half-expected the movie to try to do that with voiceovers, but it didn't); perhaps partly because in the still photos I saw, some of the actors looked way too young for the characters.

Fortunately, I waited long enough to see the movie that I had forgotten many of the specific details of the book, while remembering the broad outline and most of the characters fairly well. And except for a couple of small flaws, I found the movie charming and entertaining and well worth watching.

I think the most disappointing flaw, for me, was the character ages. It works okay with Jocelyn and Sylvia being 40ish instead of in their mid-50s, but I would rather have seen older women in those roles. But I imagine that wasn't really viable for a Hollywood movie. (Also, I think in the book Sylvia is Latina, though I don't think that's explicitly stated.)

After watching the movie, I briefly glanced through the book again to remind myself of what got left out. The movie leaves out most of the characters' backstories and flashbacks (though it does retain a few bits of those), but I think the charm of the characters shows through quite well. They're mostly not as snarky as some of them sometimes get in the book, and in fact in bits of the book I found some of the main characters kinda unlikeable, which is mostly dispensed with in the movie (Bernadette in particular is often much more sympathetically treated in the movie, though she also has a much less prominent part); but those changes didn't bother me.

Overall, although I think there's a little more depth and quirkiness to the book, I thought the movie did quite a good job of capturing the spirit, characters, and plot of the book. There's some rearrangement as well as some cuts, and a few things added, but all well within the bounds of what I find reasonable in an adaptation.

And, as importantly, I think it works well on its own terms, for people who haven't read the book. It's probably a little too heavily Austen-focused for viewers who haven't read Austen's books (or at least seen movies of them), and I found the characters a little hard to keep track of at first, but I'm pretty sure you don't need to have read the book to enjoy the movie.

And I was thoroughly tickled by the discussions of science fiction in the movie (mostly carried over from the book)--the name "Le Guin" may appear more times in this movie than anyone else's other than Austen. They even showed the scene in which Jocelyn and Grigg encounter some Vampire LARPers in an elevator--possibly the first time LARPers have ever appeared as characters in a romantic comedy.

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I've now watched some of the making-of stuff on the DVD, and found two things odd about writer/director Robin Swicord's thoughts about the book:

First, she says that the book consists of six short stories, one for each of the protagonists. I didn't see it that way at all; I saw it as six chapters of a novel. I'd have to go back and check, but I don't think the chapters stand on their own as stories.

The other thing was that she said that she saw Prudie as corresponding to Persuasion, and Sylvia corresponding to Mansfield Park (instead of the other way around, as they were matched in the book). Which seems just weird to me. As I was reading the book, I didn't see specific strong correspondences between the protagonists and the Austen books and heroines (I saw some correspondences, but I felt that Karen nicely mixed them around), but while I was watching the movie, I kept thinking how obvious it was that Prudie corresponded to Fanny Price from Mansfield. I can sort of see what Swicord was saying, but I disagree with her choice. On the other hand, that choice wasn't apparent in the movie for me, so I can't complain about it.

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