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02 July 2010 @ 07:27 pm
in which James McAvoy engages in some pre-Regency mansplaining  
(Yes, I know there is a proper term for the period before the Regency. I just didn't like the phrase "Georgian mansplaining" as much.)

So, I have done it. Against my will and possibly against my better judgment, I have watched Becoming Jane. (It looks like my tutorial may be going ahead, in which case the first time I see the film probably shouldn't be in a screening with whatever students I may have. But I also got Bright Star and Last Chance Harvey from the library to soothe the pain afterward, and because I always watch British movies on July 4th.) I remain utterly perplexed as to why someone would choose to make a biopic of an author by sticking her novels into a blender, putting the resulting pulp up onto the screen, and then passing it off as the genuine article, but the members of the production team doubtless had their reasons.

I was about as infuriated as you'd expect me to be, particularly by the scene in which Tom Lefroy suggests that in order to be the equal of any male writer, little Jane really needs to widen her horizons and gain experience. (If you would be so obliging as to presume my meaning, and I think you will.) I can only assume Jane falls in love with him because he's willing to read her passages about avian sexytimes out of a nature book and recommend Tom Jones--which, just by the way, the actual, historical Jane Austen had already read when she met Tom Lefroy, which is why they were able to have conversations about it. I had to pause the DVD to vent--not the first time, nor the last--because it's a particularly insidious kind of male patronizing, the kind that pretends to be in the name of female liberation. I suspect I'm supposed to have come out of this scene thinking that "Tom Lefroy" really values Jane's mind, when all I can think about is how annoyed I am that he thinks he has to school her, and that the only way to be "equal" to a man is to write like one.

I also don't think I was supposed to come out of the movie comparing the insipid "trials" of their Jane with the real suffering of her sister Cassandra; or lamenting the doe-eyed blankness of Anne Hathaway when there is the perfectly lovely Anna Maxwell Martin right there being wasted in the same film; or wishing that--if they were going to invent this ridiculous palpitating romance pretty much out of whole cloth--they could have at least done it with a Tom Lefroy more like Laurence Fox's character (a figure totally invented, I can only assume, to have an overbearing aunt so that poor unimaginative Jane could have a model for Lady Catherine) than like James McAvoy's, whom I constantly wanted to flick between the eyes, no matter how nice he looks in a waistcoat. (And anyway, the real Tom Lefroy is supposed to have been fair-haired and tall.) Yet another of the problems with this film, you see, is that it fails as a romance as well as a biopic of Jane Austen. Granted, I tend to go for the serious and shy ones anyway, but the film's Tom Lefroy is basically just a grab-bag of rakish traits--ooh, he boxes; he has such a zest for life! he doesn't want to be a lawyer; he's such a free spirit!--and the film falls back on the old, old cliche by allowing Jane's apparent dislike of him stand in for the idea that secretly, she's really attracted to him because he "challenges" her, so that the actual falling-in-love process, if it happened, was not seen by me. I saw them maybe flirt a little, and then suddenly they were hiding in the shrubbery while Tom was declaring that he belonged to her heart and soul. (His heart and soul are apparently quite cheaply bought.)

And, perhaps strangest of all, the film forgets for whole scenes at a time that the reason one would make a biopic of Jane Austen at all is that she was a writer. I suppose this makes sense, actually, for the "romance" they want to tell--one in which dabbling, dreaming Jane writes things that are only suitable for family consumption, which Tom Lefroy dismisses as mere "feminine accomplishment," until she is inspired--or molded and fired, like clay in a kiln--by her passionate love for Tom Lefroy, which would go on to shape all the novels she would write. Of course, the generally proposed chronology of Austen's life suggests that she had already written the juvenilia, Lady Susan, and a draft of Elinor and Marianne by the time she spent that month in 1796 flirting with Tom Lefroy, but she can't possibly have written a draft of the novel that would go on to become Sense and Sensibility until she fell in love with him, so there's no hint of that. Similarly, there's no real suggestion that she reads anything until Tom Lefroy recommends Tom Jones, so the bit where they visit Ann Radcliffe comes out of absolutely nowhere (especially as I can only assume that a majority of the target audience may not know who that is). It could have been a useful move for the screenplay to have a previous scene where Jane reads, or admires, or heck, even knows about Ann Radcliffe...but I suppose that would be too much like saying that she didn't need some dude to come along and inspire her reading and writing. And we can't have that. Jane Austen was inspired by love, you guys! She wrote all her novels about the one who got away! The film makes the incredibly disagreeable move to "explain" why a "spinster" would choose to write about love and marriage--because she can give her characters the happy ending she never had.

Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royaltybewarethespork on July 3rd, 2010 01:18 am (UTC)
I love Anne Hathaway! But this whole movie sounds desperately bad, so I am sure that even my love for her would not redeem it were I to try and watch it. Mansplaining is such a turn-off for me. :(
tempestsarekind: austentempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
I've liked her in other things, but in this movie she doesn't seem to do much of anything. It's peculiar, and I can't quite explain it.

Someone who is less obsessed with Jane Austen--and, full disclosure, with a particular way of seeing her work--might very well have a different take on the film, though.
Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royaltybewarethespork on July 3rd, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Hmmm. Interesting. You're making me want to watch it just so I can see what you mean.

I'm not a huge fan of Jane Austen, but I did enjoy Pride and Prejudice (I know, I know, it's the only book of hers that people ever seem to read). So I'm certainly not obsessed with her - do you think that would mean I'd see the film differently?
tempestsarekind: henry tilney would SO write fanfictempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
Very possibly--as I spent a fair amount of time yelling things at the screen like "Argh, you totally stole that line from Elizabeth Bennet!" :) And I went into it already at odds with the whole premise that as an author, Austen only copied from her life instead of using her imagination and skill to invent her novels.

Aside from all that, though, I do think it's a film that's fairly derivative of (if I were feeling more charitable, I would say "in conversation with") all the Austen adaptations of recent years; I'm not sure you'd miss much if you just watched one of those instead.
Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royaltybewarethespork on July 3rd, 2010 01:43 am (UTC)
I probably wouldn't recognise half the lines you did, but this:

And I went into it already at odds with the whole premise that as an author, Austen only copied from her life instead of using her imagination and skill to invent her novels.

Makes me think that I'd find it a bit cringeworthy anyway.
tempestsarekind: elizabethtempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
It is eyeroll-worthy, at least: the film basically structures Austen's "life" so that it resembles Pride and Prejudice, even inventing some characters in order to do so. So it argues that Austen's life is the basis for P&P (and her other novels) by making sure that her life in the film is derived from P&P. It seems an odd strategy.
Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royaltybewarethespork on July 3rd, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
That is really weird. I mean, why go to all the effort to construct a whole life that never existed? It doesn't make sense.
tempestsarekind: very few dates in this historytempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
I am no clearer on the concept after seeing the film. :)
Constant Readerskirmish_of_wit on July 3rd, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
Oh, dude, I totally checked out Becoming Jane from the library this week and then returned it unwatched. I'd seen it before, but not since I started watching Lewis, and I had a sudden hankering for Laurence Fox. But in the end, I couldn't deal with having to watch the rest of the movie just for those bits.

Yeah. That movie. I felt like the whole thing was mansplaination, not just the Lefroy bits (although those were particularly egregious). The entire premise combines that oh-so-special mixture of condescension, "enlightenment" (as a process forced on others, of course, and obviously not something the creators/speakers would ever need to strive toward!), veiled misogyny, and straight-up misinformation. Ugh.
tempestsarekind: very few dates in this historytempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 01:35 am (UTC)
Ha, that's so odd that we both checked out Becoming Jane from the library at about the same time!

I just don't even really understand the premise, because it seems to be "lady author needs love to turn her into a real writer." This seems like a dismal enough premise that I wouldn't want to go on making a film from it, but clearly I know nothing about these sorts of things. Maybe later, after I've almost eloped with some guy, I'll come to understand.

And I remember that the film's director did that thing where he had to make sure everyone knows he didn't actually like girly old Austen before making this film, just to add some sprinkles to the fail sundae.
Neaneadods on July 3rd, 2010 02:03 am (UTC)
That was SUCH a shallow little movie! The real Jane Austen would have shredded it.
tempestsarekind: austen snark is the best snarktempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
Yes! I mean, I went in prepared, so at least I'm not disappointed, but the whole thing could have been so much better in so many ways.
Neaneadods on July 5th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
Somewhat OT - one of the suggested movie mashups suggested by the Reduced Shakespeare Co was "Darcy's Angels," and they acted out a couple of scenes. But it, of course, is not meant to be taken seriously!
tempestsarekind: austen bonnetstempestsarekind on July 5th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Heh. The mysterious Darcy, who is never seen on screen, and who has a famous distaste for dancing... (How anyone knows this is never quite made clear, since no one's ever actually seen him.)
Neaneadods on July 5th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
I think he's not that unseen, not when Lydia got the line "Oh, please, will you jump in the water again and make your shirt cling to all your muscles?"

JANE & ELIZABETH: Oh, do! Oh, do!
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on July 5th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
So, very much on display, then. :)
litlover12 on July 3rd, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
Aargh. The old "you can't be a REAL creative artist until you've fallen in love/had sex/gotten married/any combination of the above." My very least favorite cliche -- and I have a lot of cliches that I hate.

tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on July 3rd, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
It's so nonsensical! And mostly, it only applies to women, to the point of having to discover secret romances that "explain" why and how they were able to write (see also: Charlotte Bronte; Emily Dickinson...).