Julian Jarrold, 2007
Becoming Jane is easy to describe in one sentence: a cheap trick designed to lure in the dreamy escapist ladies who start to panic during those years without Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Luckily, I am one of those dreamy escapist ladies, and although the rational part of me screams, “You are being manipulated with this trite crap,” I’m too busy reviving the other part of me from an uncontrollable swoon.
"Oh woe is me! I'm going to be remembered forever!"
Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) has a (not very well-developed) thing for a hot Irish dude named Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). She is reserved yet opinionated, he is a young hothead, and the two initially clash. So far, so good. As all Janeites* know, this setup is a recipe for the very best kind of romance – Unique Girl Changes Asshole Guy Into a Noble and Devoted Lover. However, the reason we love that particular plot so much is that it doesn’t actually exist in real life, and Becoming Jane proclaims to be just that, the real life version of Pride and Prejudice.
This may not look like a big deal to you, but in a society where you have to have chaperones and stay twenty feet apart and not show your ankles or whatever, nose-rubbing is an extremely hot act.
More than resembling that classic, however, the film actually more closely imitates Shakespeare in Love. Molding an author’s biography to fit with his or her most famous works is not a new practice. The successes of both Shakespeare in Love and film adaptations of Austen novels are an understandable motivation for Becoming Jane, which is well-cast but not nearly as sophisticated a film as its predecessors. Austen-like dialogue is rushed and garbled, and clearly screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams didn’t get the memo I sent out earlier this year that declared epilogues (especially those involving aging make-up) as officially retired. But I would much rather have this film emulate those greats, however weakly, than go down the boring biopic road that so many others have.
"Sometimes when I am lonely, I go rub my chin against the hard fence out by the south pasture, trying to remember the feel of James McAvoy's stubble, but then I get stuck in this awkward position and have to wait for the hired hands to untangle me."
Of course, Janeoids (Yes? No? Whatever, I’m keeping it.) take issue with errors and liberties in this supposedly biographical love story, when they of all people should understand that the whole reason Jane Austen is so timeless is because LIFE IS DISAPPOINTING, and audiences absolutely do not care if fact is fictionalized as long as there is a good story. On some level, we’re aware that odds are pretty slim that Austen’s life was Pride and Prejudice gone horribly wrong, causing her to resolve to write stories that only end happily. Whether or not she was an Elizabeth Bennett to Tom Lefroy’s Mr. Darcy is really irrelevant. Becoming Jane is a cute story about how one might imagine Jane Austen would become THE Jane Austen. And fabricating a point in her life story in which her own personal Lloyd Dobler failed to hold up a boom box and sacrifice everything is entirely legitimate. The film cleverly takes advantage of the vacant position of romantic comedy’s founding mother and awards it to Jane. It simplifies the origins of a genre that really exists for other reasons, but it does so pretty skillfully, and there are heart-piercing moments in the film that rank right up there with the “I WILL FIND YOU” waterfall scene in Last of the Mohicans.**
I may have just brought up this scene from LOTM up just to have an excuse to post this picture. Swoonx5K!!
Instead of taking ownership of the Austen-esque romance, Becoming Jane really is just another example of one. It may not end in a wedding, but it does leave you with the reminder that there are plenty of pre-packaged happy endings in books and films just waiting to provide you with an alternative to your own disappointments.
*This is the actual word for Jane Austen fans. I love George Eliot, so I’m hoping to popularize “Georgies” by late 2008.
**I have watched this scene (and just this scene) more times than I care to reveal.