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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  A Few Clouds
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The Jane Austen Book Club

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Having plowed through the novels, filmmakers are now scrambling around for a way to keep Jane Austen up there on the silver screen. Hence, Becoming Jane, which imagined that Austen's own life was a Jane Austen novel. And hence, The Jane Austen Book Club, which imagines that every woman's life is a Jane Austen novel. Based on Karen Joy Fowler's bestseller about a group of Sacramento-area women who get together once a month to filter their relationship problems through Austen's canonic oeuvre, The Jane Austen Book Club stakes no claims to artistic greatness, nor would it justify any. But it's been a long time since Steel Magnolias, and doesn't your average Austenite deserve her own moment in the spotlight?

I'm not sure these are your average Austenites, however. They all look like TV or movie stars, for one thing - Amy Brenneman, Maria Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt and Maggie Grace, in particular. Rounding out the service for six (one for each novel) is Hugh Dancy, who's swiftly becoming a one-man British Invasion, taking over where Hugh Grant left off. Here, he's Grigg, a very cute computer nerd/sci-fi nut who gets added to the group because one of the members (Bello) thinks he'd be perfect for another of the members (Brenneman). Of course, he's really perfect for Bello, in that Emma Woodhouse kind of way. And the whole movie's like that, a flurry of rhymes and echoes between Regency England and contemporary northern California.

The difference is that, instead of trying to land good husbands, these women are trying to hold on to their husbands. Or trying not to. Or trying to avoid marriage altogether. And one of them's a lesbian, which just seems thrown in for flavor. I can't speak to how well director Robin Swicord has adapted Fowler's novel, since I haven't read it. (Too busy with The Ernest Hemingway Book Club.) But I wished that either Swicord or Fowler had preserved more of Austen's hard-earned intelligence, the sense that she'd seen through everyone and everything and was now doling out her analysis one tiny droplet of acid at a time. Then again, Masterpiece Theatre is about to start plowing through the novels again, so what am I complaining about?

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