Writer’s imagined love elicits tearsSniff! Sniffle! Sob!
During the climax of “Becoming Jane,” a projection of what Jane Austen’s love life might have been, I was surprised to hear the aforementioned sounds from the seat to my right ... And the seat to my left ... And all around the theater.
Get ready for a tearjerker.
At least, if you’re a Korean woman ― the only demographic represented in the audience of this film, at least at my screening.
As a gyopo, however, I didn’t feel the need to weep along with my Korean homegirls or Anne Hathaway as she portrayed the famous late 18th/early 19th century novelist. This was odd, considering I cried straight through “Love Actually” starting from about five minutes in.
It’s just that something is a bit off in Becoming Jane.
Hathaway is picture-perfect for the role, with her doe eyes and brown curls that mirror the sketch of Austen that I saw while visiting the writer’s home in Bath, England. But the problem is Hathaway’s portrayal doesn’t go beyond the mere physical representation of the famed author. While Austen’s heroines are famous for their spunky wit, Hathaway’s Jane, as one of my colleagues said, is just bland.
Unfortunately, screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams further accentuate Hathaway’s lack of sass by excessively comparing her to perhaps Austen’s cheekiest heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. The movie might as well be renamed “Becoming Elizabeth.” Like Elizabeth, this Jane is mired in lower-class pastoral life with a mother who nags her to get married, a benevolent father who wants her to marry whomever she wishes and a gentle, dear older sister. She hates to admit that she’s infatuated with a pompous visitor to her town. She has a tendency to run into said pompous visitor while on muddy countryside romps. Oh, and she and the pompous visitor fall in love, once he learns some manners. The screenwriters practically hit viewers over the head with comparisons to Elizabeth.
But unlike Elizabeth, this Jane doesn’t have the guts to stand up to her Darcy, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), a foppish Londoner who scandalizes the sleepy town of Hampshire. True to the repressed decorum of the late 18th century, the two have some initial snide encounters, most of which involve eavesdropping. But that has far less dramatic potential than a deliciously good verbal spat a la Keira Knightley in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
What Becoming Jane does have on its side is a respectable plot. Unlike Darcy, Tom is not a rich man; he’s a poor law student who depends on his wealthy uncle’s allowance to live. The uncle, however, fed up with Tom’s playboy ways, banishes him to Hampshire where he can’t get into trouble. (Personally, I couldn’t help but see the situation as an old-school twist on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”) While McAvoy plays Tom with annoyingly charming swagger, he’s a bit ugly to be a leading man. His non-Hollywood looks were better used in his portrayal of Tumnus Faun in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
As expected, girl meets boy. Girl hates boy. Girl and boy put aside their differences and fall in love. But from here, the film becomes far less formulaic.
Those who are fans of Austen know that the writer never married. Knowing this, throughout the film, I wanted to see how Hood and Williams reached this sad conclusion despite the happy love story that could have been.
The ensuing narrative satisfactorily winds around the ill-fated Jane and Tom as they attempt to navigate treacherous, money-obsessed English society. In one scene, as Mrs. Austen pleads with Jane to marry up, she sums up the sentiments of the time by saying: “Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensable.” By the end, viewers will have their answer to the conundrum of how Austen managed to write such beautiful love stories without having ever ostensibly been in love.
Even so, the film just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was McAvoy’s looks, Hathaway’s acting or the fact that the film’s wistful romance hardly resembles the true story of Austen’s life.
But judging by the tears of my fellow movie patrons, those subtitles in hangul must have been beautiful.
Romance / English
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org
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