REVIEW: The Jane Austen Book Club (film adaptation)

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jabcmovie.jpg Review by Diana Birchall

The Jane Austen boom heats up with the arrival of screenwriter/director Robin Swicord’s deft and funny adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s popular novel. Six women who form a book club to read their way through Jane Austen’s novels may sound like a recipe for a summer nap, but Swicord’s charming comedy is bright and alert. A bitingly funny opening montage shows the irritating overload of computers and cell phones gone mad in modern city life, and we immediately understand why the book club members need to escape into the Austen canon for solace. Ironically, their fraught lives find their own reflection in the books – Sylvia (Amy Brennerman), whose husband is having an affair, trembles at the infidelities in Mansfield Park; her charmingly accident prone lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) is drawn to the duality of Sense and Sensibility; and Grigg (Hugh Dancy), the group’s one male member, is an adorable modern day Mr. Darcy as computer nerd. The ensemble’s hilariously disparate characters have a warm chemistry together and are impressive individually. Amy Brennerman’s emotionally wrenching Sylvia is tenderly supported by the expressive Maggie Grace as her daughter, and Maria Bello is outstanding as a ditz who’s emotionally lavish with her dogs but unavailable for relationships. Swicord, employing lively, vibrant camera work and joyously colorful settings, orchestrates the unlikely spectacle of actors doing lit crit with jokes, with such seemingly effortless verve as to put us, as Jane Austen said, in “dancing, laughing, exclaiming spirits.”