2 1/2 stars out of 4
Here we have a movie adapted from a novel, itself based on the six novels by Jane Austen.
For a writer with such a small output who died close to two centuries ago, Austen has never seemed to fall out of favor with filmmakers or readers. Nary a year has gone by without a new movie based on one of her books, and earlier this year there was even a quasi-biographical film about her ("Becoming Jane").
The club in "The Jane Austen Book Club" is comprised of five women and one token man who get together once a month to discuss and interpret the six Austen novels.
Each, of course, represents a character from one of the books. The time we spend with them away from the book club gatherings provides the movie with its sparse and slight entertainment.
As great as Austen's novels are, their plots are rather predictable, and the film follows suit. Once director/adapter Robin Swicord establishes the personalities and motives of the six principals, we can figure out what will happen. This is not a bad thing, per se, just anticlimactic.
The most interesting character is Jocelyn (Maria Bello), a never-married 40-ish woman and animal trainer whose dog has just died. Acting as Austen's Emma, Jocelyn wants to set up younger guy Grigg (Hugh Dancy) with her pal Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), whose husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) has just left her for another woman. If you're familiar with "Emma," you'll know how it all pans out. Also keeping our interest for a while is Allegra (Maggie Grace), Sylvia and Daniel's lesbian daughter, who is just coming out of the closet.
To refer to the movie as a "chick flick" would be overstating the obvious - Austen herself practically begat the genre. Tossing in the one male lead with a love of science-fiction was smart but is unlikely to draw in very many curious male viewers. Unfortunately, the movie also lacks practically all of the elements needed to make it recommendable as a date option.
Like "Becoming Jane," it is pleasant and competently made and will appeal largely to the already-sold Austen faithful and those rare few who haven't already seen at least one of the hundreds of Austen-adapted movies. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Opens exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive, Atlanta. Call 678-495-1424 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com.