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'Jane Austen Book Club' sexy, 'In the Valley of Elah' not

 

Last updated 9/27/2007 at Noon



‘Jane Austen Book Club’ proves that the sexiest part of a body is the brain. This movie celebrates the timeless, time-consuming, stimulating pastime of reading for pleasure and knowledge’s sake alone. Austen’s book definitely are not for everyone, but the themes of self-restraint, patience in love, boredom being its own punishment or reward, and making sense of why people do those crazy things are universal.

The six characters immerse themselves in six of her novels for six months. Starting the book club is awkward enough and keeping it going is nothing short of a miracle with schedule conflicts and the characters “metrosexual” lifestyles. Over six months Sylvia (portrayed by Amy Brenneman) and Daniel (Jimmy Smits) divorce and reconnect, Joselyn (Maria Bello) finally finds true love, Prudie (Emily Blunt), young and newly married, finally gets what she wants which is really difficult because she doesn’t have a clue what she wants. Young Allegra (Maggie Grace) breezes through three meaningless lesbian love affairs.

The book club enables the six to take a step back and examine the things that are holding them back from finding a real life like the ones described in Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Emma etc. There is also the token male in the group Grigg (Hugh Dancy) who is compliant and easily controlled, something Joselyn finds invaluable in men as well as her Rhodesian Ridgeback kennel of dogs. Grigg rides his bike everywhere and is attracted to Joselyn because he never was allowed to have dogs growing up. Many of the lines tossed around in the movie are a bit pseudo-intellectual because only an Austen scholar could decipher the ‘Club’s’ authenticity.

But still, the movie is very fluid and everyone fits into their roles very naturally. For example, the elder in the group, Bernadette (Kathy Baker) mothers Prudie by teaching her to knit, something her own mother would never do. The ‘Club’ could have been dressed up by including scenes from the Jane Austen books which showed the present day characters acting out the scenes they were talking about. Instead the women are dressed dowdy and rich; everything to show these are women of leisure. In all honesty, Emily Blunt’s character was the most interesting and she herself so full of talent. Her performance could have dominated the entire movie and come out much better. ‘Club’ viewers will be inclined to check out Jane Austen’s novels, but if you’ve never read them before there’s probably a reason.

‘In the Valley of Elah’ does a good job proving there is nothing romantic or sexy about war. The movie intentionally plays down the emotionally arousing scenes possibly to magnify the corruption and brutality that the ‘Elah’ maker blames on the war in Iraq. There’s something evil going on that can’t quite be depicted in the movie, but only in the realities of what goes on every day in these hot zones, way off yonder. Not many people will see this movie until after it receives an Oscar for Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) who portrays the numbing effect of his son’s disappearance very realistically. Hank’s character reflects closely Cindy Sheehan’s solemn face that hid the unthinkable pain that will never go away. However, Tommy Lee is a man and a movie star whose words and actions are taken to heart and respected. Based on a true story, ‘Elah’ questions the ethics of making money off of other’s misery with the intent of causing social change. It could always backfire on the maker.

 

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