Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affection for Jane

I saw a movie this weekend that made me cry so much I brought on a massive headache.

Well, I don't know how true that statement really is, but I did cry a lot. Mostly because lost love is something worth crying about, and there's lots of heartache in Becoming Jane.

Jane is a young woman who, like her parents, wants to marry for affection, not for money. But, as in all of her books, money can never be ignored. The stress of marrying well is put upon her from the get go. Her mother (played by Julie Walters) wants her to remember that money is absolutely necessary. Her father (James Cromwell), though he supports her idea of happiness, tells her “nothing breaks the spirit like poverty.” Jane finds release from these constant pressures through her writing alone…until a young lawyer from London enters the picture.

Tom Lefroy (magnificently portrayed by James McAvoy) is everything Jane wants. He’s free-spirited, intelligent, and a little rude. I don't think she wanted the last part, but it grows on her. He quickly falls completely head-over-heels for her, and she with him. The movie was a little slow up until the point they declared their affection for one another. Once the slight glances and mocking arguments move into true “affection,” Becoming Jane shifts out of generic period drama into devastating love story.

Those who are looking for the intensity of the Pride and Prejudice (both the mini-series and last year's version) should probably wait until Becoming Jane is on DVD. It’s a slow-paced drama that doesn’t build true momentum until almost halfway through. Lots of time is spent on looking at the scenery and dancing. There's definitely a lot of time spent on dancing. I understand that dancing was the only way for young, eligible people to speak to one another, but I think this could've been a bit more interesting. I stopped griping about all this by the time Jane and Tom fell in love. The intensity of feelings exploding off the screen were enough for me to forgive the turtle pace of the first half.

Anne Hathaway stars as the not-yet-famous Jane Austen. She’s wonderful. A lot of critics have commented that she was miscast--too doe-eyed to play the serious Jane Austen. I don't think so. This Jane is supposed to be a care-free young woman. Hathaway's innocent, playful features bring life to young Jane. You believe that this whimsical young woman grew to be the extraordinary author she would become. More importantly, Hathaway is just as convincing a Brit as RenĂ©e Zellweger.

Hathaway doesn’t deserve all the love; the supporting cast is equally as great. James McAvoy is, unsurprisingly, great. I talked about him earlier in the year when he made an exceptional turn in The Last King of Scotland, and he plays Tom Lefroy like an old pro. In an interview I watched with Anne Hathaway, she says that when she met McAvoy he seemed "like a young nice man," but then we she started working with him she said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I now realize I'm working with a future legend." Hopefully, she's right. The man is a chameleon and completely blends into every role he takes on. Granted, he’s no Colin Firth, but I’m OK with that. :)

Julie Walters completely tossed aside the doting Mrs. Weasley and became the stern, but loving, Mrs. Austen. James Cromwell, though acceptable as Mr. Austen, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Hathaway on perfecting that English accent.

With her name so high up in the credits, I was really hoping to see more of Dame Maggie Smith, but she’s obviously pulling a Dame Judi Dench in this movie by making her presence very much known in the shortest amount of time possible on screen. (Watch her get an Oscar nod out of it or something.)

Becoming Jane is a fictionalized telling of Austen’s life. The story came from a letter Jane sent to her sister Cassandra about meeting a lovely young man named Lefroy. No one knows if they fell in love in real life. Screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams were obviously trying to mix Austen’s life with her work, but it’s hard to top the artist herself. For fans of her novels, little (and some not so little) glimpses of her characters will pop up. Lefroy could easily be Mr. Darcy with Jane as Elizabeth, or are they Willoughby and Marianne? No matter the truth and fiction of it, I think it’s a testament to how Jane Austen may have lived her life. She wrote stories of women who made it through difficult times by finding love because she was a woman who found a way to live through her difficult times by experiencing love.

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