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Monday, May 28, 2007

Jane Austen, Feisty Lovah?


In which I discuss the desecration of my literary idols.

I dragged my companionable lad to Waitress t'other night as payback for sitting through Fracture (actually, we both were happy to see both, I just like to make gender role jokes, hahaha), a sometimes-enlightened sometimes-strange, sometimes-flawed movie which is the subject of a later post.

But I had to first and foremost blog about the trailers, which were horrifying beyond a doubt. Yes, the one-two punch of previews for A Mighty Heart (which actually brought me close to hysterical tears in three minutes) and Becoming Jane (which filled me with spinster-esque righteousness) had me in a big ole' mess before the actual movie started playing.

Here's my beef with Becoming Jane (see the trailer for yourself and decide whether you agree). Why do we have to make Jane Austen's life story hinge around a man? She was a writer with several published novels to her name by the time she was middle-aged--something many women (ahem, self included) would die for today. Sure, her books are romances in some sense, but they were also about keen social observation viewed through a practical and self-removed lens. So why for heavn's sakes do they portray her and some studmuffin walking through the woods and looking like they're going to get it on amongst the birches? Jane A is all about sex--but the repressed kind. I ain't seeing no repression in this trailer.

In the world of Jane-ites, I hover between those indignant keepers of the flame, the JANSA crew, and the bosom-heaving sorority sisters who think Pride and Prejudice will teach them how to catch a man (yes, they exist). I don't get indignant about sexed-up film versions of Austen--I'm all for 'em. Jane A. writes about pregnancies, seductions, and elopements, and attraction in her discreet way.
And I don't really care about scripts that take liberties with her books--if you've read this blog, you know I think Ang Lee's S&S reverses some of Austen's premises but makes a damn fine crowd-pleasing, thoughftul, and briliant movie out of it.

But I would really like to see a biopic of J.A. be something other than a re-hash of Shakespeare in Love and/or a rehash of Pride and Prejudice. Because she's just a fucking fascinating (and mysterious) figure in history--there's a reason her books are so open to interpretation. So why not treat her life as more than a two-bit, hollywoodized romance?

My ideal biopic would:

1-be somewhat feminist in that J.A's life brings to light lots of interesting stuff about women's roles
2-pay credit to J.A's wit and powers of unobserved observation
3-not feature a pouting, dashing, dress-dragging through the woods gosh-darnit spunky heroine
4-not be a heavy-breathing inducing cliche designed to pander to J.A's fan-club of YA/Romance writers
5-pride itself on its subtlety and merit a second viewing and
6-Be funny. The love story in Shakespeare in Love was a bit cliched and hackneyed, but what saved that movie was its full wealth of wit. It was a hilarious romp of literary in-jokes.

I don't think it's going to happen. But of course I'm going to see the movie.


  1. Great points! I'm in agreement. Of course, I'm still planning to see the movie anyway out of curiosity and for the costumes, at least.

  2. I'd pay to see that movie.

    If they had to make up a story about Jane (and granted, it's hard to do a biopic about her without making up something), did they have to make up some schmaltzy Harlequin romance crap?

  3. Luuurve the photo caption, by the way.

    I still have to see this movie, and I will, but “fiction is desirable...”? I don’t think so, not here. “But money is absolutely indispensable,”—now their true motive is revealed!

    At least in Shakespeare in Love the made-up-story was obvious, but this looks to me like they are trying to pass it off as the real deal.

  4. fiona8:55 PM

    saw this movie. very painful. was banging my hand against my head in the theater when 'it is a truth universally acknowledged' was put into the mouth of a male acquaintance. Yes, it was inevitable; Yes, i was prepared, even waiting for it; but it came so late in the movie that i was almost at the point of thinking that we would be spared and they wouldn't dare. thankfully i was in good company; a shared disgust of biographical readings - how dare we assume that a woman could have an original thought unconnected with her immediate experience! george eliot who? - and a shared love of james mcavoy will get you very far in this world.