The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Marc Blucas
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Premiere

Robin Swicard's first commercial feature film "The Jane Austin Book Club" is one of those films some people would hesitate picking up based on the title and perhaps the boxcover. Especially, like myself, if you aren't familiar with the works of Jane Austen. Swicard wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler.

When the film started I kind of rolled my eyes, thinking in the back of my head that the film was simply another in the long line of films where the characters are completely self absorbed, pretentious and go through the whole film, seemingly unemployed but somehow living in some of the most expensive homes in California and going through mid life crisis or what have you. And yes the film is somewhat just like that, except for one thing, you actually believe in these characters, and it is very well written, acted and directed. I certainly didn't expect this from a film where one of the key opening scenes takes place in a Starbucks. And although it may help to be familiar with the world of Jane Austen, the film will make you want to read one of her novels just like "Sideways" may have led you to try out some fine wine.

The story involves five women who decide because of their love of Jane Austen to meet once a month and take on the task of reading one of her novels, the idea started by Bernadette (Kathy Baker), who is single but seemingly happy and wealthy after going through six marriages. She's the type who is very involved in all of her friends problems and is always there in a motherly way to help them. And her circle of friends all have problems, even if they are all upper middle class and beautiful. And the more they meet the more their problems become intertwined with the novels they are reading. And when Jocelyn (Maria Bello) invites a good natured, handsome and successful science fiction fan to their all female get together, many of their problems, especially with relationships come out, often in very funny scenes.

Sylvia Avila (Amy Brenneman) is one of the key reasons the book club is started, because her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) decides to leave her for another woman. Needless to say she is an emotional wreck and is trying to cope the best way she knows how. The separation is also affecting another member of the club, her lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace from the first two seasons of "Lost"), who all of a sudden takes up sky diving and other extreme sports (and clumsily getting injured, or perhaps she's just crying out for attention, she is also going through some romance problems of her own.

Prudie Drummond (Emily Blunt) is an overly serious intellectual type who is also a high school French teacher, she's married to a man named Dean (Marc Blucas) who certainly has never read Jane Austen. He loves football and is very into his career, after his promise of taking her to France falls through she starts becoming erotically drawn to a young student of hers, and it bothers her tremendously as she gets closer and closer to getting a hotel with the young man. And Jocelyn doesn't appear to be into men or women, she just seems to love dogs, and her original intention of inviting Grigg Harris (Hugh Dancy) into their club is so that he will hook up with Sylvia. It certainly never occurred to any of them that Grigg is more than into the idea of the book club itself and he devours the novels and offers a male perspective on the books themselves not to mention spicing the whole scene up a little because of his obvious interest in Jocelyn.

I know how this film may sound, but let me tell you, the performances are sincere, the characters are completely believable, and this movie simply makes you feel good. It is a very happy film, even if some of the underlying themes are pretty intense. The film is so well directed and written, you will lose yourself in the characters and the intertwining stories. This is truly an exceptional film. I loved it, and you might also if you give it a chance, it is also the perfect film to watch with a romantic interest, and one that doesn't make you feel guilty for even having to watch it like so many others in the genre.

The transfer itself is good enough, although it doesn't necessarily stand out compared to some other new releases, especially during the dark scenes which seem to be a little soft and perhaps not as stable as you may expect for a new release. It nicely fills the whole screen at 1.78:1, and there are quite a few bright scenes that really sparkle and pop off the screen. The objects in the background are enhanced by the new format and many of the objects take on an added clarity that certainly rivals its standard definition counterpart. But the darker scenes lose that sense of detail, and therefore it is a little inconsistent, though not distractingly. The flesh tones seem fairly well balanced, but this release is less than excellent. But it is serviceable, although some may expect more from a new release. Some may say this is an odd choice to release in high definition, but I actually am ready to watch every single film released in high def and I don't exclude romantic comedies or any other film, why wouldn't we want better bit rate and clarity if it's available, no matter what the title?

Although presented in Dolby TrueHD, we don't notice many surround effects being used, but the score and excellent songs that play throughout the film do take on an added dimension for this dialogue heavy film. I really enjoyed hearing Amy Mann's song 'Save Me' from "Magnolia", although I was surprised, I haven't heard that song for awhile and it is hard to get out of your head. Certainly this type of title isn't going to stand out in the audio department, and yet I wasn't distracted and could easily follow the dialogue and the story. Serviceable, but certainly less than spectacular.

In the special features department we have quite a few. The commentary for one is definitely worth a listen, it features Hugh Dancy and Maggie Grace along with the director Robin Swicard, along with the editor and producer (Maryann Brandon, Julie Lynn). It is light hearted and fun, not overly technical and you can certainly tell the director loved the material and has a vast knowledge of Jane Austen.

We also have four featurettes, which altogether run about an hour, most are pretty standard fair and pretty typical behind the scenes fluff. All of them are in standard definition, sadly. One standout is 'The Real Jane Austen', because it gives us some insight into her life and works and after the film I was quite curious. Although filled with experts, I felt like I would have rather had a documentary of greater length since this feature only lasts about 20 minutes. The subject matter deserves, perhaps a little more time. Along with 'Behind The Scenes', 'The Book Club Deconstructed', 'Walking The Red Carpet' and about seven minutes of deleted scenes, this is a full package of supplements, even if they are mostly the same self congratulatory stuff that drives me mad, and seems completely unnecessary. Fans of the film certainly may want to check these out, but for me the film itself was more than enough.

But we do get some excellent high definition trailers, and that is always a bonus!

If you are looking for an intelligent and funny movie to take your mind off of reality for awhile, this may be the one. Crammed with special features, this Blu-ray is a must have for fans, even if the video leaves a little to be desired. I was certainly surprised by how much I liked the film and would certainly suggest it as a rental at least, you may be surprised by how much you get involved in the story.