The Jane Austen Book Club
based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler
2007 • 106 minutes • Sony Pictures Classics
I don’t know if I have anything particular to say about The Jane Austen Book Club, a film wherein six members of a Jane Austen book club find that Austen’s writing sheds insight on their romantic conundrums, as a film unto itself.
I mean, the extended montage of just how difficult modern life is (or was, in the far-off past of 2007) that opens the picture does make its point a little too heavily before launching into the story proper. Some of the jokes are a little broad for my tastes. And I did definitely spend the bulk of the film telling Emily Blunt to absolutely not sleep with her student. (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Blunt’s character follows my wise advice.) But, largely, it’s a very comfortable romantic comedy that balances its large cast well, treats all its characters with respect, and chugs along to a pleasant conclusion where everyone, now happily matched, accepts the wisdom of the classics and decide to start reading the Aubrey–Maturin series so they’ll never run out of material. It’s fun, it’s not infuriating (as mainstream American romantic comedies can tend to be, through no inherent fault of the genre), and it’s a little dated. (Two words: flip phones.) What’s not to like, even if it doesn’t make much of an impression?
But I do have something to say about The Jane Austen Book Club as a film in context of female representation in American cinema. Continue reading
2015 • 124 minutes • Universal Pictures
Amy Schumer doesn’t punch hard enough for me.
Let me be very clear: on the basis of what I have seen of Schumer’s work, she does not punch hard enough for my taste. Unlike that Washington Post article, I am not going to pretend to judge Schumer’s comedy on the basis of her entire oeuvre when I haven’t seen most of it. But from what I have seen—“Last Fuckable Day,” “Celebrity Interview,” “Football Town Nights,” and Trainwreck—Schumer seems great at setting up scenarios where she can highlight problematic elements. For instance, in “Football Town Nights,” when a new football coach asks his players to stop raping, we are treated to the black comedy of teenage boys offering up scenario after scenario where rape is acceptable. (“What if my mom is the DA and she won’t persecute?”) But the conclusion, where the coach saves the game by describing football as raping the other team, is disappointing, because it just plays into rape culture. I think we are meant to read that conclusion as more black comedy (look, it’s embedded in the entire system of this game!), but it feels too subtle to conclusively make that point. Obviously, no creator owes it to an audience to be unsubtle, but it sits oddly with me. “Celebrity Interview” does the same; it feels like it’s mocking celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence instead of mocking the system that capitalizes on presenting women with non-traditional interests (but, of course, very traditional beauty) as rare and exotic.
Trainwreck, Schumer’s film debut as both a lead actress and as a screenwriter, falls into much the same category for me. Schumer gets a lot of comedic and dramatic mileage by genderswapping a common romantic comedy male archetype—Amy Townsend works hard, parties hard, and has no time for commitment. The film’s second scene, wherein Amy successfully gets her date to go down on her before she “falls asleep” so she doesn’t have to reciprocate, is a grand thesis statement for the film. But, like Amy in that scene, the film doesn’t go much farther than that.
The Beautician and the Beast
1997 • 105 minutes • Paramount Pictures
The Beautician and the Beast, I owe you an apology.
You see, as a fan of truly bad films, I often spend time digging through Netflix and Hulu to find hidden gems. (And I mean truly bad films—films made in all earnestness with the hopes of being good. The intentionally bad movie—your Birdemics, your Sharknados, and, if some rumors are to be developed, your Rooms—holds no appeal for me. I want to see where it all went wrong with the best of intentions.) The Beautician and the Beast simply looked like a perfect candidate. A 1997 romantic comedy about a Queens beautician who, through a series of hilarious mishaps, ends up playing teacher to a ruthless Eastern European dictator’s children? Oh, and said leads are Fran Drescher, in a role that sank her film career, and Timothy Dalton, a man whose diet is entirely composed of scenery? (And I imagine still is; I haven’t seen Penny Dreadful, because I am a total wimp.) In short: come to Mama.
But, The Beautician and the Beast, you surprised me. This film is surprisingly sweet and charming.
based onThe Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
A Knight’s Tale is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s so unique—cheerful teen medieval anachronism mashed up with a groovy seventies soundtrack with a fantastic cast—that I sometimes daydream about an alternate universe where it made so much money that studios were falling over themselves picking up movies like it, so I could have a whole library of this microgenre. And then I heard of Virgin Territory via author Genevieve Valentine, who is pretty groovy herself. It’s The Decameron as teen sex comedy—in some markets, it’s literally called Decameron Pie. It went straight-to-DVD. For heaven’s sake, Hayden Christensen and the kid from Eragon are in this movie. It’s like someone mixed up my daydream with my love for bad movies. …Let’s do this thing.
You may have heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first installment of an erotica trilogy that began life as the alternate universe Twilight fanfic Master of the Universe. For fans, it’s a story that’s both delightful in the sheer amount of drama involved and a bit troubling in how visible it’s making a piece of fanfiction, considering the possible legal repercussions. For non-fans, it’s a story of a fan turning pro. But there was one particular non-fan’s reaction that intrigued me. Over the last week, Jason Boog, the editor of GalleyCat, has covered the story for both GalleyCat and NPR. Both pretty much ask the same question—“Will the success of Fifty Shades of Grey inspire more fan fiction writers to convert their work into straight fiction?” (In fact, the NPR piece assumes that “James’ success will undoubtedly spawn a wave of repurposed fan-fiction erotica in the coming months”.)
Songs of Love and Death edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
It’s no secret that I love and adore Jacqueline Carey. When I discovered there was a short story set in the Kushiel’s Legacy universe collected in Songs of Love and Death, it immediately went on my wishlist. Since I like to space out installments of doorstopper fantasy series by at least six months, I wasn’t planning on picking up Kushiel’s Chosen any time soon, so I more or less forgot about it until I got home for the winter holidays and discovered that my local library, in fact, owned a copy. So happy holidays to me!
Any books you’re hoping to get for the holidays this year?
How about giving? Are you giving any good ones?
I have mentioned that I would like the newly reissued audiobook of Brideshead Revisited (as read by Jeremy Irons), but I don’t expect it. While I won’t say who gets what (just in case they read my blog, which I doubt), there are copies of Outlander and Friday Night Lights under the tree. I just really hate giving books that I personally haven’t read and think the recipient might enjoy, so I’m ultimately quite picky.
All things being equal, which would you prefer–a mystery? Or a love story?
See, my instinct when faced with a question like this is to, well, question it. What kind of mystery? What kind of love story? Why can’t they be in the same book? While I’m unfairly prejudiced against mysteries, I’m still always looking for the one mystery that can redeem the genre for me. And I’m always looking for good queer romance. Ultimately, I don’t have a preference—my only preference is for well-written books.
Victorian novels about queer women turn up on my reading list a lot, insofar as any particular pattern can turn up on a reading list pushing five hundred books. All of this is, of course, due to Sarah Waters, whose Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet are just wonderful. Naturally, the first of today’s selection is the second of her three Victorian novels, and the second strongly reminds me of Fingersmith. Allons-y!
A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer
I don’t read a lot of romance. I tend to prefer my romances as subplots to a greater story; they seem more organic that way, and tend to avoid the cripplingly annoying heteronormativity that seems to place itself about shin height every time I open a book that markets itself as mainly romance. (Not that I don’t run into it in other places.) But I do appreciate the light, fluffy, and honest quality of a lot of material marketed as such; it’s comforting to know that your leads will end up together in a story that won’t challenge your view of the universe. (Which is why the heteronormativity bugs so much; my view of the universe involves telling it to kindly go die in a fire.) A Tailor-Made Bride sounded cute, and then it was free on Amazon.