Saturday, August 02, 2008

Movie Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

The movie "The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) (IMDB) (Wikipedia)" revolves around a book club in California. Two friends, Bernadette and Jocelyn, come up with the idea of starting a book club reading Jane Austen books to help cheer up their friend Sylvia, whose husband leaves her during the opening scenes of the movie. They get Sylvia's daughter, Allegra to join in. Along with Prudie, a teacher who they meet while standing in line for a Jane Austen film festival. Jocelyn gets into the act by picking up Grigg, a science fiction fan at a hotel where there is both a science fiction convention and a dog breeders convention (Jocelyn breeds dogs) happening at the same time, as a potential romantic interest for Sylvia. The plan is for each of the members to lead the discussion of one Jane Austen book each month. And, of course, each of the main characters picks the book that includes the Jane Austen character each is modeled after.

During the course of the movie, the movie follows the characters romantic lives. Prudie's troubled marriage, Allegra and her lesbian relationships, Sylvia and her ex-husband, and Jocelyn, whose attempts to get Grigg and Sylvia together misfire as Grigg has more of an attraction or Jocelyn. And the book discussions focus not on plot or facts (after all, this is not high school english) but on characters, goals, motivations, desires, the themes of order vs. desire. And the discussions also becomes a subtext to the characters speaking and thinking about their personal lives (one of the funny quotes in the movie is Bernadette saying "I'm glad that this is the last book, there is too much plot going on."

Obviously, there is a certain amount of dramatic license that goes on, and romanticism of what book clubs are, after all, this is a romantic drama. But the goal is probably right, the books provide a focal point of thinking about life, and the clubs provide a means to do so amongst others. Whether friends, like the movie, or among strangers who have nothing in common but the fact they like to read. Some are narrowly defined. The club I am in (well, I have been truant recently, I hope for an excusable reason) reads all sorts of things (well, fiction, and not science fiction) and was assembled slightly randomly (two different book clubs were started by people making a general announcement and taking all comers, and eventually one folded and a few survivors (well, two) joined the other). So what you get are a slightly random group of people who like to read, and are at least non-introverted enough to meet a bunch of strangers and talk about what they think. And reality is, they also like to eat and randomly chat and have conversation. Which is how it usually works, even though the group has very little a priori in common, other then some attitudes.

Does the outside world come into this? Yes, members do have lives. They move, buy houses, have babies, get married, all the normal ebs and flows of life. And the book club becomes a place of semi-normalicy. People who know you enough to talk to, but not so close that it is threatening. And there is a place for that.

It was a fun movie. I missed it when people from my book club went to see it last year. My wife and I found it amusing, and I assure everyone that it was my idea to rent it.
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