Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2007. Mockingbird Pictures, John Calley Productions. Screenplay by Robin Swicord, based on the book by Karen Joy Fowler. Cinematography by John Toon. Produced by John Calley, Julie Lynn, Diana Napper. Music by Aaron Zigman. Production Design by Rusty Smith. Costume Design by Johnetta Boone. Film Editing by Maryann Brandon.
Six-time wife Kathy Baker attends the funeral of her friend Maria Bello‘s dog and decides she needs to do something to cheer her up. She puts together a six-person book club dedicated to the novels of Jane Austen, assigning each reader one of Austen’s books and giving each member the opportunity to host a discussion on their assigned reading. It couldn’t come at a more perfect time, since one of Bello’s best friends (Amy Brenneman, in a lovely performance) is dumped by her husband (Jimmy Smits). These three women, along with Brenneman’s daughter (Maggie Grace) are joined by two foundlings, a prim high school teacher (Emily Blunt) whom Baker meets at a movie theatre, and a charming software geek (Hugh Dancy) whom Bello tries to push in Brenneman’s way in order to get her out of her divorce funk. As the months progress it becomes clearer that Austen’s work is not at all twee fiction of the past but relevant to every modern-day issue dealing with romance and the pursuit of happiness in general. A first time directorial gig for Robin Swicord, previously the screenwriter of the marvelous 1994 version of Little Women, this film is blessed with sharp performances and a breezy, delightful mood that makes you happy to sit through the many shifts that these characters make in their lives. Swicord obviously loves her characters, but doesn’t mollify them by going in for sappy confrontations or life-changing miracles; instead she smartly watches over them as they allow the power of art to widen their perspective and see more possibilities than they are at first allowing themselves. The ending feels totally tacked on and is too quick (I for one would be happy to sit and wait for them to really work things out), but it doesn’t diminish the positive feeling that the film has been cultivating throughout. Bello is such a standout, and Dancy couldn’t be more charming if he jumped off the screen and handed you a bouquet of roses.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2007