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An American in Austen

Drama / Romance
2024 / 84 minutes
Rating: 7/10

In the opening scene, we discover that Harriet-the-aspiring-author is struggling with writer’s block, but her alter ego, Harriet-the-librarian is having quite the day. First a teen patron asks for a recommendation and Harriet gets to introduce the girl to Jane Austen. Harriet briefly hugs a copy of Pride and Prejudice before handing it over. Then Harriet’s boyfriend of three years, Ethan, arrives early to take her to an anniversary dinner.

But when Ethan pulls off the most romantic surprise marriage proposal ever, Harriet finds herself giving what might be the worst answer possible: “Maybe?

That scene ends with a quick cut to Harriet commiserating with two friends, all three wondering what on earth just happened. When they see a shooting star, one friend suggests Harriet wish for a do-over on the night. But instead, she wistfully declares, “I wish for Mr. Darcy.”

And that’s when it happens. On the cab ride home, Harriet falls asleep, only to wake up in the back of a carriage. She’s confused, thinking it’s all a rather scary joke. Even when the carriage stops, and she meets the Bennets – mama, papa, and the five sisters who believe that Harriet is their just-arrived American cousin – still thinks it’s a prank, some kind of play being put on for her behalf. She only starts to clue in when she notices there are no telephone or power lines, and no planes flying overhead. The shooting star has done its work – she’s been transported into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and soon she’s going to meet Mr. Darcy!

This will best be appreciated by Austen fans, who will understand the different ways that Harriet’s arrival is messing with the original story, and her attempts to get things back on track. There’s a fun Groundhog Day homage going on here too, with the way Harriet begins each day. Instead of alarm clock music repeatedly starting off Bill Murray’s day, we have a rooster’s crow startling Harriet again and again. Like Murray, Harriet has that moment where she realizes she’s still there, and she’s still stuck, living out another day in this same story.

Cautions

[Spoiler alert] After realizing that even Mr. Darcy doesn’t compare with being loved by Ethan, Harriet looks up to the heavens and offers what’s basically an agnostic prayer. She never addresses God or anyone. She seems to be speaking to the sky, perhaps hoping for another shooting star to come by and grant her a second wish.

The other caution would be the one you can tack on to every Hallmark movie: the god here is love. And while God is love, love is not god, and to elevate it so is to make an idol out of it.

Conclusion

We’re all Jane Austen fans in this household, and it was that very love that left us split on this creative riff.

For the loyalists, it’s just annoying to have a ditzy, maverick American walking through the original story and messing things up.

But I quite enjoyed how Harriet was both stuck in the story, constrained by what Austen wrote, and yet still able to cause new and original problems for the Bennet household, all while staying within the spirit of the original. This is a Hallmark film, and while still predictable enough, it has a good dollop of creativity that left me wondering exactly how it would all work out. So, safe for the whole family, but best enjoyed by those already well-acquainted with Jane Austen and yet not fiercely loyal to her.

You can watch a short scene below…

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Family, Movie Reviews

Pride and Prejudice (2003)

Romance/Comedy 104 min / 2003 Rating: 8/10 When a book is adapted for the screen, readers want it to be as close to the book as possible. So let's begin this review with a heads up: that did not happen here. The central plot remains the same – these are women "in need of a husband" – but the setting has been updated to the modern-day USA, with five girlfriends all sharing a house just off-campus. Other departures include how the first love interest, Charles Bingley, came by his wealth: selling classical music CDs for dogs, and marketing them via late-night TV infomercials. And he drives a motor scooter. Oh, and Mr. Collins' proposal now has him make the compelling argument: "Elizabeth, we've been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth." So if you aren't up for a light, silly treatment of your favorite book, this is not for you. That said, I do think it is for most everyone else. And if you've ever wished that someone today could make something like Pride and Prejudice, well, this is something like it indeed. This version also adds an element glaringly absent from the book and every other film version: car chases! Caution There aren't many cautions to offer because, as it turns out, this was made by Mormons. There's no sex happening onscreen or off (though the villain of the piece, Wickham, jokes at one point about being “relatively disease-free”). The only problematic element is a self-help dating guide called the “Pink Bible.” We had to explain to our kids that it was a “bible” only in the sense that it was purporting to be the final word on that subject – dating – as the Mechanics Bible would say it is for car repair. We also had to explain to our girls that this boy-crazy guide and the "religious" way that the youngest two girls, Kitty and Lydia, followed it, was meant to be a comic warning and not an example. Conclusion This is not a faithful retelling of Pride and Prejudice and yet it is a very good one, keeping remarkably close to the spirit of the book. That makes it the perfect date night movie for mom and dad, and a pretty good one for the whole family. The pacing is quick, the romance is sweet, and the humor is sprinkled liberally throughout. Of the 50 or so people I’ve watched it with, or loaned it to, somewhere near 90% have given it a thumbs up. There are so many Pride and Prejudice films that if you want to find this one you should search for the title along with the year, or the title along with the word “Mormon." That’ll help you track it down. I share the trailer below with some misgivings – the film is a lot better than this makes it seem. ...