Monday, August 6, 2007

Becoming Jane

While Martin was on business trip to Wichita, I went with my sister to see Becoming Jane. It's a biopic (sort of) about the early life and romance of Jane Austen. (It's very much a fictional tale, based on a relationship mentioned in about two sentences of Austen's letter.)

It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't great. One of the biggest problems was the male lead, Tom Lefroy, played by James McAvoy. He's introduced as a sort of rogue, and his first scene did not endear him to me at all. It also didn't help that he looks too young and scruffy for elegant Jane. So, I knew they wouldn't end up together (the real Jane never married) and from the very beginning I was happier for Jane that way - the whole time I was thinking she was being saved from making a huge mistake. Lefroy does get better, and we see his sliver of a good side. He's supposed to win us over with his witty comments and sharp mind, but the writing didn't really exhibit this and was not very clever.

There's also a lack of a narrative thrust carrying the entire movie. When Jane first meets Tom, she overhears a disparaging comment he makes about her writing. Although she's a strong, independent proto-feminist, the offhand comment of a complete stranger wounds her so deeply that she destroys the particular piece of insulted writing. This bizarre event leads to what one assumes will be a major story arc - worldly Tom helping sheltered Jane with her writing. But after he suggests to her in a rather nauseating way that she needs to widen her horizons through sexual encounter, and recommends the novel Tom Jones, that storyline disappears. It's not an extremely obscene encounter, but the aforementioned scene suggests that sex is a singular gateway to acquaintance with the world, without which a novelist must remain prurient and obscure. Ironically, Jane Austen describes romance as affection, honesty and genuine love, without extramarital sex - what love is meant to be, in other words. It's a ridiculous insinuation and a pointless scene.

So after Tom criticizes her writing, recommends Tom Jones, and listens to her criticisms of his favorite novel/justification of his promiscuity, and then they're in love. The story then ambles over their ensuing romance with its predictable hurdles, and - well, I won't tell you what happens to conclude the movie, but let me just say that knowing Jane never gets married really punctures what little suspense there was.

The filmmakers were clearly trying to arrange Jane's life to parallel her most popular work (especially popular of late, with two new film adaptations and a 10th anniversary of the best one), Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately, Becoming Jane is much the worse for the comparison. Darcy, supposedly modeled after Tom, follows the pattern of jerk-turned-lovebird, but Darcy really was a noble man underneath his brusque prejudiced exterior, whereas Tom seems like he's truly just a jerk, who does some nice things. Elizabeth Bennett seemed so much more mature that Anne Hathaway's Jane, who is played like a petulant teenager making irrational decisions. It's hard to sympathize with a character you think should really just grow up.

The film's major flaw is its adopting of the mistaken modern notion that love must be passionate, and to be rational when making decisions concerning marriage means one is cold and dull. This, of course, is the antithesis of Jane Austen. Overall, the film wasn't terrible, but its ambling pace and dull story lacked a compelling narrative that could have turned the sparse story of Jane Austen's single romance into an interesting film.

5 comments:

Leticia said...

In my review, I agreed with all but your final conclusion. I saw not passion vs calm in the marriage decision, but love vs money and position. I understand that it springs from the historical context of Jane Austen, where a woman's only chance to lift herself financially was a 'good' marriage. I read the short biography of Jane Austen from the Jane Austen society, and was surprised that modern sensibilities aside, the story of Mr LeFoy and Jane was based on reality, as well as the match her parents were trying to arrange for her. She evaded both and remained single till her death at 41.

Andrea said...

I also thought that there was a bit of a stretch between Tom's personality in the beginning of the movie and when he encounters Jane. As soon as he meets Jane, he goes from being a immoral jerk to a kindly gentleman. No gradual change takes place at all. I'm sorry, but have you ever known a man to completely change his bad habits overnight?

Skyminder said...

Somehow it seems eternally fitting that Jane should never marry. What man would have been good enough?

Cathy said...

[warning: spoilers]Thank you for expressing what I felt but couldn't articulate after seeing this movie...some of the same things bothered me, including the idea that Jane could not write well unless she was more familiar with the ways of the world (ie, sex). And I could not approve of Tom. Are we supposed to approve of a man who would attempt to damage a woman's purity and utter such double entendres? And introduce her to the seamy side of life? According to her comment at the inn, Tom was a good guy masquerading as a profligate? [Note that she was willing to run off with him before she even knew that sliver of good about him.] He is either what his uncle sees him as...an irresponsible debaucher...or what Jane apparently perceives--a good enough guy who sets aside some of his allowance for his family, but spends the rest on wine & prostitutes. The latter is not quite believable to me. Is he a man torn two ways...between being a responsible man and sowing his wild oats?

And why would a woman like Austen want to have anything to do with such a man? Would she really have thrown caution to the wind like that? I doubt it. And what was with her chasing him in a way...her initiating their first kiss...and would Jane really have defied the convention of the time and engaged in such behavior in the garden? Maybe I'm an idealistic English major, but if you go by what she/her heroines espoused in her novels/letter, she as a protofeminist was willing to flout societal conventions that had no basis in morality and that confined women, but she held a strong moral standard and I doubt she would have behaved as she did in the movie.

I was also disappointed by the gratuitous sexual implications/innuendos and partial nudity. PG rating? I think not. Did Hollywood add that stuff in to be prurient, or was it a legitimate interpretation of Jane's romance? I lean toward the former.

On the plus side, as with the latest P&P, the scenery was great and gave a good idea of what life must've been like back then. But, my feelings are mixed about the movie. However, it provided much food for thought/conversation.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Denmark.
I think it was a splendid movie and the passion between Jane and Tom were so alive. After seeing the movie I became interested in knowing more about the love affair. I have read alot since then, and my conclusion is that everything that happened when Jane and Tom first met could wery vel be true. There is no record of them meating again after the ball when they kissed. Jane wrote letters to her sister Casandra about the insident and her lations to Mr Lefoy. But there is no record of Tom in letters after the ball night. We know that Cassandra burned a lot of the letters she recived from Jane at that time, So maybe the love affair carried on or maybe it dident. We know she started writing Pride and prejudice, just at that time she met Tom lefoy and Tom may have been an inspiration. So maybe it is a parralel. But because af the burned letters we may never know!