August 20, 2007

Becoming Lame

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Becoming Jane is the story of how lame Jane Austen was. Or, at least, how lame those involved with producing Becoming Jane were, and how they tried their best to make Jane Austen seem lame as well.
Anne Hathaway plays the young novelist who has, at the start of the film, not yet completed her first book when a visitor from London, Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy) turns her provincial life on its head. The playboy and future lawyer LeFroy has been sent to the countryside as punishment by his benefactor uncle for his mischievous ways, and he soon finds himself at the family home of his London acquaintance Henry Austen. No sooner does he arrive than he makes a less-than-pleasing impression on the sister of Henry by falling asleep while she reads a speech at a family gathering. They flirt, they fall in love, she gets another man’s proposal, he leaves, he comes back, he leaves, she get’s another man’s proposal, ad infinitum.
Bored yet? The reason Jane Austen is great is that she actually made this kind of stuff seem intriguing. The reason this movie is so not good is that it doesn’t. The other Jane Austen adaptations of late certainly would have paved the way for a biopic of the author herself, but not reworking her life to fit the mold of one of her books, and badly at that. It is true that a man named Tom LeFroy existed, and that he was acquainted with Miss Austen, even that there was a flirtation between them, which is documented in a couple of letters from Jane to her beloved sister Cassandra (the ones that Cassandra did not destroy after Jane’s early death) However, to assume that Tom LeFroy was the love of Jane’s life and the inspiration for her greatest tales takes quite the lofty imagination, and the film doesn’t help to guide anyone’s imagination to that conclusion.
The real problem with the film is that its plot isn’t nearly linear enough. Sure, it may not be Memento, but the interactions between the characters failed to make sense through the middle of the film.
Basically, the screenwriter filled it in to try to fit the beginning and end of the movie, both of which are believable, into the format of a Jane Austen novel. The actors did their best; the failure lies in the sadly flawed script. Because the characters make no sense, it’s even more difficult to travel back to sixteenth-century England. In making a period piece, it is essential that the director entices the audience back those hundreds of years. The only reason I wanted to go back to 1796 while watching Becoming Jane was that back then they didn’t have movies, which means they didn’t have to sit through boring movies like this one.
I thought the adaptations of Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were good, especially the latter two due to their great performances. But these performances only take the movie so far. Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy were at least as good as Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor in Emma, if not as good as Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in Pride and Prejudice. The movies were all up to a certain standard because the stories all shared the author’s standard of greatness. Too bad Jane Austen is dead because they probably should have called her up to do a number on this script.