The Jane Austen Book Club
Written and directed by Robin Swicord

Starring Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt


The Jane Austen Book Club

"The Jane Austen Book Club" is about, well, about a book club that exists to read the six Jane Austen novels. And like any other book club it has its moments of conflict, its diverse personalities, its tensions - in fact, it's only the book club that holds its members together, and finds a way to give Jane Austen's very good advice on life and relationships, some of which is taken and some of which is not.

The club was started by Bernadette (Kathy Baker), a 60-ish woman who's been married six times, but who now seems to be a Jane Austen heroine herself, mixing and matching her fellow members. There's Jocelyn (Maria Bello), a single woman who raises Rhodesian Ridgebacks and doesn't seem interested in human companionship. And the club's one man, who has a thing for Jocelyn but cannot break through the wall she's put up, is an I.T. designer, whatever that is, named Grigg (Hugh Dancy). Then there's Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), who's just being divorced by her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) and whose lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) moves back in to see her mother through the divorce; and finally high-school teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt), who has an unfeeling husband and a crush on one of her seniors. Is that six? I wasn't counting, but each of them takes a novel and once a month they meet to discuss it, so it must be so.

"The Jane Austen Book Club" was written and directed by Robin Swicord, based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler, and in a film this size with so many characters, it's hard to keep track of everyone - as opposed to a novel, where if something is confusing we can go back and forth and catch up on who's doing what to whom. Swicord takes her time, letting us get to know each of the six by the end of the film. The only place where the film lets us down is by making all the men except Grigg into unfeeling louts - Pru's husband thinks Austen is the capital of Texas, Sylvia's husband leaves her for a trophy wife. And Grigg himself gives more time to pursuing Jocelyn, who's so insecure about men that you just want to shake her; you can't imagine what he sees in her.

Nevertheless, by the end of "The Jane Austen Book Club" you do feel that Swicord has given us six recognizable human beings, warts, neuroses and all, and although I'm not really sure that she's related their traumas to those in Austen's books, I'm glad she tried.