Jane Austen biopic takes liberties
(2007, 120 minutes, G)
Two stars (out of four)
Playing at the AMC Forum Theatre
Becoming Jane, a film that promises to explore the early literary life of Jane Austen, ends up delivering a little too well on that promise, as it turns out to be less of a biography and more of a what-if tale, imagining Ms. Austen – famously a spinster – living out one of the jagged romances from her novels.
Jane, independent-minded and a budding writer, lives at a time when neither of those qualities was consi dered appropriate for a young woman. She finds herself distracted by Tom Lefroy, a visiting young cad, but, in true Jane Austen fashion, revulsion quickly changes to infatuation. A romance blossoms, inspiring Jane ’s first full-length novel, a book that would eventually become Pride and Prejudice – which is something this film threatens to do as well.
While fun for Austen-philes playing spot the reference, this mix of historical and literary elements is distracting; It ’s troubling to hear all of the characters refer to a man we know is Mr. Bennett as Mr. Austen.
There is something appealing in the idea of Jane Austen’s stories being played out in a more grounded, less romantic style, by a young woman who lacks the nearly supernatural poise of Ms. Austen ’s heroines. The film’s most charming scene has Jane clandestinely trying out all of those wonderfully sharp adjectives she would use to describe Mr. Darcy on Tom.
But there’s less and less charm to go around, as the film sticks to aping Jane Austen’s literary style rather than delving deeper into Jane’s literary passions. Having each element of Jane’s life indexed to events in her novels – or vice versa – gets tedious. This Jane is living out someone else’s story, with choices that aren’t her own and, and it gets to be a struggle for us to stay wrapped up in her plight.
Anne Hathaway, who can be an endearing actress, is forced to give a reserved, frequently blank-faced performance, playing a sketchily written character with a lot less wit and force of will than the story needs.
On the plus side, there’s James McAvoy who’s such a hoot playing Tom’s hedonistic, callous side, that his seamless unveiling of Tom’s warmth and character is continually disarming.
Between a little knowledge of Jane Austen’s life and some familiarity with her work, there’s a maddening inevitability to where Becoming Jane is going and how it’s getting there. It might play better for someone who’s never read a word of Jane Austen, but there’s still the question, why not just enjoy the original?