Tell the truth, ladies: If you saw this ad (pictured right) in the Sunday Travel section of the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times—where it’s been discreetly running for the last few Sundays—would you have thought that Austenland is a real-life destination?
Do you believe that you’re single because all the good men are fictional?
If you answered yes to either, then I’m sorry to report that there is no Austenland to visit. But have we got a movie for you.
Sony Pictures Classics has been running these ads in New York and L.A., hoping to spread the word among women that Austenland, a comedy starring Keri Russell (The Americans) and Jennifer Coolidge (everything funny) and based on the novel of the same name, is opening in those cities on August 16. It even has Twilight author Stephenie Meyer on board as a producer to help goose the young 'uns (evidently she loved the novel so much she helped make the production happen).
The question is: Will women want to see an irreverent comedy about Jane Austen? Even though Sony Pictures Classics doesn’t do those new-fangled day-and-date VOD releases (none of the "indie" arms of the big movie studios do, presumably for fear of cannibalizing their corporate brethren’s other distribution windows), the company has a pretty good track record with specialty releases. Since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, SPC has turned the occasional foreign film and indie release that might have only seen the light of some creaky-seated arthouse cinemas into a mainstream hit. Witness: Woody Allen’s Before Midnight and last summer’s Searching for Sugar Man, with an extraordinary soundtrack that has fueled its ongoing life on iTunes.
The thing is, this isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill rom-com or chick-lit adaptation. Nor is it a raunchfest, like the much-touted new genre of women’s comedies, including Bridesmaids and The Heat (though it’s not without its edge: you might note the prominent bulges in the photo above). As Tom Bernard, copresident of SPC, tells Co.Create, "This is not a chick flick, but a movie for women. It’s not some serious drama but a comedy with jokes that women get." He says that when he saw the film at Sundance, where he acquired it, the only voices he heard laughing in the theater were women’s.
So they’re having fun with the marketing, getting out T-shirts and reusable shopping bags emblazoned with "I <3 Mr. Darcy." But if you go to VisitAustenland.com, as the ad suggest, and click on "Reserve a Room" or "Wine & Dine," you’ll get the pithy notice, "Oh, dear! Austenland is still under construction, but don’t fret"—and then the movie’s release dates. And, of course, you’ll watch this just released trailer:
"We don’t want to trick people completely," says Bernard, who notes that some of the publicists hired for the movie believed Austenland was a real place.
Perhaps it’s all of a piece with the kind of never-ending Austen fandom that yielded a 12-foot likeness of Colin Firth as Mr. Darby, emerging, wet shirt and all, from a lake in London’s Hyde Park.
And the Austen adaptations go on. Right now, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has a production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Vincent Kartheiser, best known as slimy, hairline-challenged Pete Campbell on Mad Men, as Mr. Darcy.