It’s a shame that Jane Austen wasn’t around to write the not-quite-autobiographical movie Becoming Jane, or it might have been filled with the charming insights she injected into her novels. What made the sharp-witted author so brilliant and timeless is strangely absent here; instead, we’re served up another bland, passionless costume drama as stuffy and oxygen-depriving as its corsets.
Pride and Prejudice, one of Austen’s most beloved novels, was adapted for the big screen (again) in 2005 to surprising success, earning over $100 million worldwide and landing acting nods for skinny star Keira Knightley. It was an unexpected, much-adored hit that, naturally, encouraged studio heads to cook up a second helping. The big idea? To make a film about the author while she was writing Pride and Prejudice, so they could essentially make the same movie twice under the guise of creativity. High five.
But Shakespeare In Love this isn’t. Becoming Jane, which is based on Jon Spence’s biography, takes numerous liberties with her life since not much is known about her love affairs. By watching this movie, you’d think that Jane could barely string together an interesting sentence until she fell for a cocky young lawyer from Limerick who, in turn, is to thank for inspiring Pride and Prejudice.
Hear that, ladies? Get into a fleeting, go-nowhere relationship and you just might write the next great novel. Who needs journalism school or, better yet, an ability to write of things you haven’t personally experienced?
Idiotic launching pads aside, the PG-rated Becoming Jane is not terribly interesting to watch. Anne Hathaway stars as Jane and James McAvoy is Tom Lefroy, the guy who steals her heart. It has the typical back-and-forth-banter-as-foreplay exchanges found in all of these movies, but in this case it quickly evaporates. What was harmless, regurgitated fun soon becomes a tiresome, sullen trip with money woes, dead youngsters and enough sulking to make even Paris Hilton roll her eyes.
Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) is partially to blame for valuing style over substance (attractive actors, beautiful scenery) and TV writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams present Jane and Tom as mostly vapid stick figures. The basis of their “romance” is watching him try out his smarmy moves on her (“your horizons must be widened,” he says with predator sleaze) and watching her find it ever so irresistible--anything to avoid marrying the sweet but dull heir (Laurence Fox) that her parents (James Cromwell and Julie Walters) have in mind.
Hey, even the late 18th century yielded its fair share of offspring rebellion. But even if the folks’ dating advice could be fine-tuned, they remain the most engaging, semi-developed characters in Becoming Jane, along with an amusing turn by Maggie Smith as the snooty Lady Gresham.
Just don’t expect to find any of them onscreen much. Chalk it up to another misstep in a marathon of many.
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