ALL I WANT from a romantic comedy is for two pretty people to start off on the wrong foot, slowly realize they like each other, and maybe have sex in a phone booth or something. Oh—and it might be nice if the movie didn't actively shit all over my intelligence and then bury its leavings in the one small corner of my brain still capable of experiencing joy. Is that too much to ask? AUSTENLAND, I'M ASKING YOU A QUESTION, LOOK ME IN THE EYE WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU, WHERE ARE YOUR GODDAMN MANORS?
(That was a pun because Austenland is set in a manor!)
In Hollywood's latest dung-nugget, Keri Russell plays a depressing single lady (plausible) who's been obsessed with Mr. Darcy since she first read Pride and Prejudice. In hopes of purging her obsession, she spends her life's savings on some sort of bizarre fuck-vacation at a Jane Austen-themed resort where women are invited to play the lead character in an immersive Austen-based experience. (It's not Paradise: Love, but it's not not Paradise: Love.) There's a sexy stable boy and a brooding faux Mr. Darcy, and the whole creepy resort is helmed by a bonnet-wearing, inexplicably crabby Jane Seymour—maybe she misses Sully. :(
Austenland cynically positions itself as totally hip to the unrealistic fantasy Mr. Darcy represents, while simultaneously straining hard to cash in on that very fantasy. You can't have your cake and eat it, too, Austenland, even if that cake does have a tiny Bret McKenzie on it. (Why are you on this disgusting Austenland cake, Bret McKenzie? GO BACK TO HOBBITON AT ONCE.)
The bar is pretty low for romantic comedies. (See paragraph one.) But in trying to outsmart a trope that's worked fine for 200 years, Austenland gets its head stuck under the bar and then just sort of writhes around down there for 97 minutes. There's less sexiness and charisma in the entirety of Austenland than in a single one of Colin Firth's damp, fabric-encased nipples.