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02.13.08

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The Jane Austen Book Club

One disc; Sony Pictures; $26.96

By Richard von Busack


Home video is just the right size for The Jane Austen Book Club, an acerbic romance by veteran chick-flick scriptwriter Robin Swicord (Shag, Practical Magic, The Perez Family). There's a local angle, too: it's set in Sacramento and based on a novel by Davis' Karen Joy Fowler, formerly of Palo Alto and a Nebula Award–winning sci-fi writer to boot. A loosely knit group gathers to read all six of Austen's works. The group includes a solitary trainer of pedigreed dogs (Maria Bello), an adventurous older woman (Kathy Baker), a young lesbian (Maggie Grace) whose mother, Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), was recently dropped hard by her husband (Jimmy Smits). Lastly, Prudie (Emily Blunt of The Devil Wears Prada) is a French teacher with a dangerous smoldering crush on a drama student at her school. The lone male in the group, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), represents another kind of Austen favorite: the clumsy but marriageable male, ignored because of pride and prejudice. Swicord insists on the refining quality of Austen but also on the continuing relevance of the way she humbles the proud and lifts up the downgraded. Most of all, this film celebrates how Austen's work eased women into the future. (Richard von Busack)


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