I’m pretty sure that Jane Austen never thought of including a lesbian jumping out of an airplane in any of her books, and yet somehow that scene fits in just fine in this story of six people who get together to read all six of Austen’s novels. Austen did manage to cover, in six books all taking place almost entirely in the quiet British countryside of the late 18th century, many variations on the themes of love and learning, and this film shows us how her stories continue to inspire and connect people who realize that very little has changed in the last 200 plus years.
The book club starts as a way to cheer up Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), just dumped by her husband (Jimmy Smits). Sylvia’s friends, the free-spirited Bernadette (Kathy Baker) and the dog-breeding loner Jocelyn (Maria Bello), invite Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace), an impetuous, extreme sport-loving lesbian. Bernadette impulsively invites Prudie (Emily Blunt), a prim high school French teacher who has never been to France. And Jocelyn even more impulsively invites a man — Hugh Dancy as Grig, a sci-fi loving techie who asks if some of the six Austen books are sequels.
Once a month, they meet to talk about the books, each of them taking turns to host and present. And the themes of the book — from the patient hoping of Mansfield Park and Persuasion to the jump-to-the-wrong conclusions of Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, to Sense and Sensibility, which has both, each book seems to resonate to one or more of the characters and their own paths to love.
The movie is a big improvement over the wispy novel, which teetered between being cutesy and being cloying. One reason is a brilliant cast, each of whom adds tremendous heart and vibrancy to the story. It also benefits from lively direction and high spirits provided by screenwriter Robin Swicord. The opening credit sequence sets the stage with a collection of scenes showing the frustrations of modern life. And the pacing keeps things light and bubbly, making it clear that, like Austen’s heroines, a happy ending will be in store.
Parents should know that this movie includes explicit sexual references and situations, gay and straight. A character commits adultery and another considers having sex with a very inappropriate partner. The movie includes brief strong language, alcohol, and drug use.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the stories of the characters parallel the novels by Jane Austen. What are some other examples of “the humbling of the know-it-all pretty girl?” Do you agree that “high school is never over?”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “In Her Shoes,” and the movies based on and inspired by Jane Austen’s novels, including “Sense and Sensibility,” “Emma,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Bride and Prejudice,” “Clueless,” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”