Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Not going to the movies

I saw an ad for "Becoming Jane" last week, and for a moment, I thought, yes! a movie *about* Austen.

But it sounds like it all went terribly wrong. Instead of the independent, witty, and innovative writer Austen, we apparently get Jane, who has to be informed/shaped by her love interest in order to write with the big dogs. It looks like someone read a couple of her novels, thought they were love romances and not social satires, and then followed every stereotype about women's genius/creativity. Maybe they read Mansfield Park and took Fanny's character in deadly earnest, without realizing that she's also kind of an insufferable goody-goody. Or maybe they didn't get that Mr. Darcy becomes so attractive to Elizabeth only after she's seen his estate (huge!) how he treats the servants (not too bad!). Or maybe they found the marriages in Sense and Sensibility high romance. Whatever they did, they seem to have misread Austen. And her biography. Her juvenilia was well on its way to her mature novels, without the help of any imagined love interest. She started in 1787 -- at the age of 12. She had written the epistolary novel that would become Sense and Sensibility by the age of 20. Why the film makers felt they needed to downplay her self-education and development is beyond me.

As Amanda at Pandagon put it:

And, like Violet says, the huge reach of movies makes this whole made-up biography of Austen even more troubling, since it will mean that huge percentages, probably the majority, of film-goers will see this and not do the research to find out what bullshit it is. Think about that for a minute—I can see a lot of parents encouraging teenage girls to see this movie because Austen is such a fabulous role model, a woman who cherished her own talents and seems to have avoided marriage in part because it was a very real danger to intellectual independence at the time, even if you had a relatively progressive husband. And instead your daughter gets the message that a) life isn’t complete without a man and b) a woman’s creativity and taste can no more exist without a man to have really created it on some level, even if said woman was one of the great geniuses of literature who basically taught the next two centuries of writers how to tell stories.

Between her love interest telling Austen how to write (and giving her Tom Jones, which Pandagon commentators noted she had read much earlier on her own) and the film's portrayal of Austen copying down conversations taking place around her to be placed in her novels, the film makers seem to suggest Austen hadn't an idea of her own.

It's interesting that this film has been compared to Shakespeare in Love, which Stoppard worked on... as this film seems neither witty nor able to take a creative approach to Austen's life. Instead we get Jane Austen inserted into a stock Hollywood romance. But then again, maybe we were supposed to gather all this from the title "Becoming Jane." No one who takes literature seriously refers to female authors by their first names, while still using the last names of male authors (I saw someone in Pandagon's comments compare it to "Becoming Mark" for Mark Twain: you simply wouldn't).

Couldn't they have gotten D.A. Miller on board with this film, and made something in the tradition of Shakespeare in Love? Now for *that* I would go to the movies.


karuna said...

Awww becky, Claudia and I went to see Becoming Jane and both LOVED it. I think it showed just how unique and interesting her own ideas were. She did not change her writing style to accommodate the man's views. I think it also showed an interesting vulnerability in Jane Austen. I'm sorry you didn't like it. I thought it was really well done. Claudia totally sobbed through out it. And, I don't cry usually at films so ...I didn't cry. But I almost did. :)

Becky said...

I just saw your post! Maybe I would feel differently if I went and saw it rather than reading reviews. But you're right -- Hathaway is so pretty, and I have trouble imagining her as Austen.

karuna said...

Yah, i guess that makes sense. She doesn't seem normal looking enough for Austen. Awww, becky, i miss you and our little discussions.