Eric D. Snider

Becoming Jane

Movie Review

Becoming Jane

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B-

Released: August 3, 2007

 

Directed by:

Cast:

The premise behind "Becoming Jane," the sumptuous-looking quasi-biopic about the beloved Ms. Austen, is that Jane Austen's life often resembled a Jane Austen novel -- "Pride & Prejudice" specifically, I guess, though my familiarity with Austen's works comes only from having seen the movies based on them.

Which brings this question to my mind: Why make a movie that so closely resembles "Pride & Prejudice" when that story has already been filmed a number of times? Why, there was a perfectly good "Pride & Prejudice" just two years ago! Making it about the author's life gives it a certain cuteness, I'll grant you, the way "Shakespeare in Love" was deemed clever for combining elements of the Bard's plays with his personal life. But take Jane out of the equation -- replace her with any of your basic period-piece-romantic-costume-drama heroines -- and you're left with mere trifle.

It's not bad trifle, though. Anne Hathaway makes for a lively Jane, equal parts gentility and slyness, and we'll overlook her good-but-not-great English accent. She's in her early 20s when we meet her, and already considering the idea of living off her writing rather than by finding a husband. Her parents (Julie Walters and James Cromwell) are not amused by this nonsense, of course, and Mrs. Austen makes it clear not just that Jane must get married, but what her criteria should be in finding a mate: "Affection is desirable. Money is indispensable."

Jane, meanwhile, is learning that wit "is the most treacherous talent of all" for women, and she has it in spades. She finds Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the young man her parents and an old dowager (Maggie Smith) keep trying to set her up with, to be unbearably dull-witted.

Then, dashing into her life like a bull in a china shop, there is Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Tom is a budding young lawyer who enjoys boxing and making trouble in his off hours. His uncle has sent him out to the country to cool off for a while, and he stumbles into the Austen home just as Jane is favoring the guests with a reading of some of her work. Tom is bored, and horrified by the apparent length of Jane's selection. ("There's writing on both sides of those pages!")

Jane and Tom meet, disagree, like each other, are at odds with each other, quarrel, make up, etc. You know the drill. The screenplay (by British TV writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams) is nothing special, but director Julian Jarrold ("Kinky Boots") maintains a light touch and gives his talented actors room to create amusing characters. Hathaway and McAvoy show some chemistry together, while James Cromwell and Julie Walters make for a feisty couple of elder Austens. And though we've seen Maggie Smith play imperious old women a thousand times before, it's always fun to see her again.

And that is "Becoming Jane": nothing you haven't seen before, but kind of fun to see it again. Kind of. Really, though, there was that "Pride & Prejudice" in 2005. Keira Knightley was in it. She was really good! I'm just sayin'.

Grade: B-

Rated PG, some mild innuendo, some brief skinny-dipping rear nudity

1 hr., 52 min.

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This item has 22 comments

  1. Chrystle says:

    Thank you. We appreciate you taking requests.

  2. Slash says:

    Since Jane Austen never married, I can't think how this story could have an Austen-esque ending.

  3. mommy says:

    nudity in a film about Jane Austin...have the drectors read her work? Are they familiar with her at all, or just riding coat tails and not creative enough to think of anything but pride and prejudice?

    This movie is not for people who are Jane Austin fans.

  4. Chrystle says:

    Because of course Jane Austin lived a staid, boring life, wrapped up in the small, everyday happenings of a small village and knew nothing about elopements, society's hypocricy, ruination and what caused it, riotous living, and dissipation. After all, there's none of that in her novels, now is there? And to think that her brother would have never gone skinny dipping with a friend before the time of swimsuits.

    Shocking. Utterly shocking.

  5. Purplemonkeydishwasher says:

    I know this is off the subject, but I like the word "ruination". I don't think people use that word enough in daily conversation. I also feel that way about the word "vexed".

  6. mommy says:

    Chrystle, I'm not at all implying Jane lived a boring life. I don't find her novels boring either. She was a writer who could show scandle and romance with the range of emotion, but none of the sordid details. That takes discretion and talent...perhaps the directors lacked the first, and feared they lacked the second..so went for a sordid deatil or two?

  7. Eric D. Snider says:

    Mommy, I gather you haven't seen the movie, but let me reiterate: "brief skinny-dipping rear nudity." A couple of guys jump into a pond to go swimming, and we very briefly see them from behind as they scamper down the hill. There's nothing sordid about it. Quite innocent.

  8. Kaydria says:

    This movie is really worth seeing if only for James McAvoy. He's very good in this movie and I'm really hoping to see him in more leading roles.

  9. Jenna says:

    I really think the best part of this movie was James McAvoy. He's an incredible actor. Not my favorite movie, overall, but still pretty good.

  10. mommy says:

    Eric, I gather brief nudity is innocent to you. My point is there is no equivalent of brief "innocent" nudity in her novels. This is just not her style. Innocent means show them from the waist up...we're not stupid, we can understand skinny dipping without seeing a butt or two-even briefly. There is no need for it in the movie. The concept could have been established without the skin...that is more Jane Austin's style.

  11. Eric D. Snider says:

    Ah... Well, if your view is that ALL nudity is automatically non-innocent, then ... I can't help you. You're on your own there.

  12. BeeDub says:

    mommy is also, of course, working from the assumption that the story told in this movie ought to mirror the stories Jane Austen herself wrote IN EVERY SINGLE WAY. Never mind that Jane Austen did not write this movie -- nor, since it is a heavily fictionalized account, did she ever really live it.

    I think mommy's real objection is that the movie contained nudity AT ALL, not just that such an inclusion goes against Austen's particular style.

  13. mommy says:

    I love when people assume what assumption i'm working from...how fun is that? Of course an author's life is different from their most known works...Shel Silverstein comes to mind. Butt it doesn't take a rocket scientist to sense themes in Austins work. Austin fans would not anticipate nudity in a movie about her. Even innocent non sexual nudity.

    I was surprised and disappointed. I didn't feel assaulted or anything (perhaps that's the innocense?) I just didn't think it was necessary or fitting for a film about Jane Austin.

    Nudity in a film about the Holocaust -I get it, it's intellectually dishonest not to have the victims nude.

  14. mommy says:

    Perhaps I should have just said I see the movie as cheap, not clever. I see Jane Austin as clever and anything but cheap. The movie was already disappointing and the nudity, brief and "innocent" as it was, didn't help.

  15. I'm just saying... says:

    I'm cringing everytime I read "Austin." It's Austen, people, which seems like an important detail since the movie is about her. Anyway, from what I've heard, this movie bears little resemblance to Jane's actual life but I will go see it anyway since I am a Jane Austen freak.

  16. Craig says:

    And yet, "mommy", you feel that through reading Austen's works you (speaking omnisciently for her other readers) can anticipate what a movie about her life would be like and would not be like, despite the fact that you acknowledge that an author's life need not reflect their writing. Can you see the inconsistency in your thinking?

    Odder still that you would presume omniscience of what Austen's fans will feel about this film. Might I suggest that not all Austen fans harbor as sheltered a view of what's acceptable?

    Nor would history support you as to what was common in Austen's day. Seabathing was done in the nude for its supposed health benefits, although there were so-called "bathing machines" to allow the bather to change and descend into the water. As for river and lake bathing, for the men at least, it was decidedly done in the nude throughout England. Only in some towns, spas, and public baths were bathing costumes imposed, and not with consistency.

  17. mommy says:

    Really? Most people who read Austen (I'm sorry I ever blew that and rue this site's lack of editing) expect her parents to talk about intimacy and see a few bums and have some heavy breathing and oh have Jane pick a looser and not even learn anything from it? They expect that? Then what do peole who read ______ romance books with the cascacading hair and the heaving chests? Do they expect wisdom, a moral compass, discreetness and smart emotional acting?

    It's not that there was skinny dipping, it was that they were assuming we couldn't tell what was happening by skipping to the two girls faces without their bums.

  18. Lulu says:

    "Really? Most people who read Austen (I'm sorry I ever blew that and rue this site's lack of editing) expect her parents to talk about intimacy and see a few bums and have some heavy breathing and oh have Jane pick a looser and not even learn anything from it? They expect that?"

    Well, if they have actually read any of her works, they certainly shouldn't be surprised by it. Instances of this kind of behaviour abound in her books. Admittedly, it is implicit, but there nonetheless.

    Consider Lydia & Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Maria & Henry in Mansfield Park - what on earth do you think they were doing together? Drinking tea and exchanging polite conversation? The 'protection' offered by Mr Elliott to Mrs Clay at the end of Persuasion demanded payment that money could not cover. And what of Colonel Brandon's ward, who was left pregnant and alone by Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility?

    The propriety of the period in which these books were written meant that she could not be more explicit, but people who knew the way society worked would have known what was left unsaid. Whilst Austen's style of writing is innocent, her subject matter is life and all that it entails.

    As for the Reverend and Mrs Austen talking about sex in the film, why shouldn't they? I'm sure that my parents talk about sex when they are alone. And if seeing someones bare rear end is sordid, then I have to confess to being a reprobate. Why, only last month I saw my nieces bare bum, and I can't count the number of times I saw my butt naked brothers dashing down the hall from the bathroom.

    My point is that this is a film based AROUND the life of Jane Austen, not ABOUT the life of Jane Austen. Why impose your naive ideas of her works on a film that is not even biographical?

    Oh, and by the way, why should Eric have to edit this site? Just check your spelling...

  19. Dave the Slave says:

    Wow, such heat over a silly woman movie. (I refrain from calling it a chick-flick since, to me, there is a difference) My wife just saw this and she liked it, by the way.

    Im not at all surprised theres a couple guys' naked butts in a woman movie. Why does the J-Lo wanna-be chick in Ghost Rider have obscene cleavage? Answer: its a silly guy movie. Don't be mortally offended to find silly things in silly movies, thats what I say. :-)

  20. Al Pacino says:

    It's not that big of a deal, but it REALLY annoys me that mommy, while claiming this movie isn't the slightest true to AUSTEN, can't even spell her name.

    It's not just lack of spellcheck. Even if you'd only read one of her books, you'd know how to spell it.

  21. Candy Smith says:

    This movie was the best movie I have ever seen!!!! The best love story I have ever watched!! Whether or not it is a true story or not is not the bleeping point!!!! I cried and cried, and must of watched the movie 50 times, lol!! And I am not a love story kind of girl. I am so glad I did stumbled on this movie because I got to see James McAvoy for the first time, I LOVE HIM, he is so cute, and such a GREAT actor, I will watch every movie that he is in, except for wanted and thats because I hate Angelina Joliee, I dont want to have her taint his performance because she is such a BAD actor and BAD human being.

  22. a girl says:

    I loved Eric's last paragraph of the review. "I'm just sayin'."

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