Jane Austen remains picture perfect

Jane Austen never goes out of style. The founding mother of chick lit (I say that with love and respect; please don’t throw your dog-eared copies of Pride & Prejudice at me) has become cinema’s go-to wordsmith. Move over, Shakespeare: This is Jane’s world now.

Of course, adapting Austen’s books for the big screen is nothing new. But two upcoming films take it a step further this summer. They are inspired by the very woman herself. Becoming Jane (opening Aug. 10) and The Jane Austen Book Club (opening Sept. 21) both draw inspiration from Austen’s life. And both look, at first glance, pretty intriguing.

Becoming Jane features Anne
Hathaway
as a 20-year-old Austen at the start of her writing career and a crossroads in her love life. It sounds like, for lack of a better description, classic Austen. And Anne definitely fits the part. Broody writer looks good on her.

The Jane Austen Book Club, based on the bestselling book by the same name, is a modern-day tale of a group of acquaintances who get together to discuss Austen’s work and find their lives paralleling her characters. Oh, and there is a lesbian in the club (Maggie Grace from Lost). Apparently she likes to play doctor with her girlfriend. I don’t think that ever happened in any of Austen’s novels, but I approve. Heartily.

So what is it about
Austen’s words and work that make them perfect for the big screen? I think much of it can be attributed to our never-ending fascination with affairs of the heart. Certainly, she also coupled social satire with withering wit. But what really makes Austen so fantastic is her singularly female perspective.

To wit, some of the best big-screen adaptations of her books come from other women giving their singularly female perspective to her work. Two of my favorite Austen films are by female directors, 1995’s teen satire Clueless and 1999’s period piece Mansfield Park.

Director Amy Heckerling made

Clueless (based on Emma) a deceptively smart, endlessly fun and just plain frothy delight. I remember begrudgingly being dragged to the film (a teen movie, come on) and leaving with a big goofy grin.

Director Patricia Rozema took a more traditional yet subversive shot at Austen’s work in Mansfield Park. The out auteur behind the exquisite When Night Is Falling and quirky I've Heard the Mermaids Singing captured the novel’s lyrical wit while also giving it some decidedly lesbian undertones. If you didn’t catch the looks between Frances O'Connor’s Fanny Price and Embeth Davidtz’s Mary Crawford, go back and watch it again.

No offense to Sense & Sensibility or (the latest) Pride & Prejudice, but Rozema’s retelling is my favorite classical interpretation. Though, in the name of full disclosure, I must admit that I harbor a small grudge against Miss Austen. Back in high school, I had complete and utter brain freeze during my AP literature test and could not, for the life of me, remember Darcy’s name. So I referred to him throughout the entire exam as “Elizabeth ’s love interest.” It wasn’t one of my finer scholastic moments.

So what’s your favorite Austen movie? Or novel? Or embarrassing moment? Someone top my AP story, please.

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