Once again, we’re doing what we want on the blog this month. This time around, we’re heading to California for a comedy of manners with plenty of relationship drama and connections to 19th-century classics of English literature.
The Jane Austen Book Club
I sometimes don’t know if you really want me to state the obvious and/or if you don’t 100% understand how film titles usually work.
In Sacramento, California, a host of seemingly unconnected characters lead rather unglamorous lives encountering everyday annoyances. Unknowingly, they will all be drawn together by Jane Austen. Book Club.
- Bernadette, founder of the book club and divorcee who has been married 6 times
- Sylvie, recently separated from her husband after a shocking revelation
- Jocelyn, Sylvie’s bestie and perpetually single dog breeder
- Allegra, Sylvie’s daughter and a born risk-taker
- Prudie (Emily Blunt), a French teacher feeling bored and dissatisfied with her marriage
- Grigg, sci-fi nerd and the only male member of the club
After Sylvie’s husband discloses an ongoing affair, her friends attempt desperately to cheer her up. Her daughter Allegra moves back in with her, having recently split up with her girlfriend anyway. In a stroke of genius, Bernadette proposes a book club to distract Sylvie after encountering a distraught Prudie. The book club may also help Jocelyn feel better, who recently held a funeral for one of her dogs (in an unexpected connection to last week’s film, Mr. Roosevelt).
By chance, Jocelyn meets Grigg at a conference center and inducts him into the book club. Jocelyn recommends Austen to Grigg, while Grigg suggests Ursula K. LeGuin (bittersweet as I learned she passed away earlier today just prior to writing this post).
As you have likely guessed, the 6 members of the book club discuss each of Austen’s 6 novels, discovering unexpected parallels between the works of fiction and their own lives.
Jocelyn, who invited Grigg to the book club to set him up with Sylvie, is very clearly the Emma of our film. She begins to regret pushing Grigg and Sylvie together when she starts to develop feelings for him, but stubbornly carries on.
Sylvie and Allegra end up living their own version of Sense & Sensibility, with Sylvie as the voice of reason and Allegra as the reckless romantic. Though she tries to move on, Sylvie still loves her husband and finds it difficult to end their marriage. Meanwhile, Allegra is off skydiving, avoiding commitments, and meeting ladies.
Prudie’s life ends up very similar to Persuasion when she seems ready to give up on her marriage in favor of a fling with a student who does quite a strong smoldering stare. Like Anne Elliot, Prudie realizes she does love the man she’s rejected…but is the damage too great for her to repair?
As the book club approaches its final novel, tensions rise and personalities clash. After Allegra falls while climbing a rock wall (a problem I am unlikely to ever relate to), the book club holds a meeting in her hospital room. When a big fight erupts on several fronts, the book club and the friendships holding it together are in jeopardy. Has Jane Austen broken up the band?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
The relationships between the characters are great, and the idea of the book club is quite sweet. Though the film clearly wants a nice happy ending, it does capture the group’s dynamic in a mostly realistic way–though the book club members support each other, there is still gossip behind each other’s backs and some rather petty fights. At the end of the day, though, the relationships between women are the driving force of this film as they care for and heal each other.
That being said, I found some of the characters insufferable. Prudie and Allegra both annoyed the bejeezus out of me, mostly because both of their characters make choices that are painfully terrible and may have negative consequences for others. I absolutely loved Bernadette and would’ve completely supported a movie that was 75% about her.
This is a light-hearted movie akin to a soothing cup of tea–which, coincidentally goes along perfectly with a good book.