Northanger Abbey (2007)
Solid adaptation of the book, but I also get that Northanger Abbey is a lot of people’s least favorite Austen and the movie doesn’t transcend the original material or anything. I really liked the book, though, because I love the whole genre of genre parody (already discussed here). The movie does miss out on some of that appeal by only having sporadic narration—still more than most Austen adaptations, I think—but it does try to compensate by having these really overblown dream sequences to show Catherine’s Gothic novel influenced fantasies, which seems like a reasonable adaptational workaround.
Henry Tilney might be my favorite Austen love interest (to be fair, I still need to read Mansfield Park, but I somehow doubt anyone in that is going to top Tilney or Knightley1 or Darcy), because:
- He knows his muslins
- He has some solid disdain for meaningless politeness
- The actual progression of his feelings for Catherine is pretty interesting and unusual for a fictional romance, I think, in that he likes her/finds her amusing from the beginning, but basically only starts to consider her romantically because she’s clearly into him.
Anyway, JJ Feild is good as Henry, although the power dynamic of their relationship, with him trolling Catherine and Catherine not really being in on the joke, bothered me more here than it did in the book.
It was also interesting to watch this at the same time as reading A Room with a View, since in Northanger Abbey you’re basically rooting for Catherine to stop just acting naturally and learn to operate within the more subtle manners of society, and it’s kind of the opposite with Lucy: you really want her to just fuck social conventions and live the way she plays the piano or whatever. (I know, I know, this is like high school English level analysis.) It’s insane to me that Northanger Abbey is like a century older than A Room with a View, because basically all pre-WWI British period stuff seems2 temporally equivalent, especially if it takes place in the countryside, but nope, that’s about the same temporal distance between A Room with a View and now.
This all had very little to do with Northanger Abbey, the 2007 TV film, but whatever. It was an okay movie!
The Overnight (2015)
So this was…pretty standard, tone-wise, and pretty non-standard, plot-wise, for an indie comedy. I don’t know, I didn’t really love it or hate it, but I’m probably not quite the audience for this—I suspect it would appeal more to young hip parents or at least people who have been in, like, any long-term relationships.
There’s a bit too much cringe factor involved for it to be truly enjoyable to watch, but I respect its commitment to the cringe, I guess? It wasn’t just cheap cringe—it shows people in truly uncomfortable social situations in a way that somehow doesn’t feel too contrived when you watch it, even if it might in summary. Adam Scott is a delight, as always. It should be noted that Adam Scott consistently nails playing high/drunk, since that so easily veers into obnoxious for so many other actors.
Crimson Peak (2015)
YES. GOOD. There was plenty of flailing3 about this already on certain parts of the internet, and this isn’t going to be much more articulate. So, some stray observations:
Crimson Peak was actually not as feels-inducing for me as Pacific Rim4, but MAN, THOSE AESTHETICS. Between the set pieces, the costumes, and Tom Hiddleston, just: A+ for aesthetics.
Also A+ for fully committing to making the most Gothic movie—apparently this is Guillermo del Toro tapping into his “inner 14-year-old bookish girl,” which again is very much: YES. GOOD.
I have a pretty low tolerance for horror, and the ghosts were definitely creepy in the way that they were filmed. But their particular role in the plot made it the sort of horror that I can handle, since all of the malevolent forces are human and not at all supernatural. The ghosts are actually trying to help the heroine and can’t really control the fact that their appearance/general existence comes across as creepy.
Once again, Charlie Hunnam plays a character (Alan McMichael) that could be described by Tumblr as a “golden retriever boyfriend,” and that is excellent. Like, he’s clearly in love with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) and disappointed when she marries Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), but he handles the situation without descending into obnoxious macho posturing. When he starts looking into the Sharpes’ background, he does seem to be legitimately concerned for Edith’s well-being and not motivated by some form of jealousy or possessiveness. And, of course, del Toro subverts the damsel-in-distress trope by having Edith already trying to escape by the time Alan comes to Allerdale Hall (aka Crimson Peak) to rescue her; plus, Alan gets incapacitated almost immediately after he arrives, leaving Edith to deal with the Sharpes on her own and then rescue both herself and Alan. We get a bro ending, similar to Pacific Rim, in that we never see Alan and Edith kiss. The ending shows them walking away from Allerdale Hall arm in arm, supporting each other; it feels at least as emotionally satisfying as a climactic kiss would have, and actually probably more.
Poofy sleeves! Like, I want to say that Edith’s sleeves just grow in poofiness as a function of time and emotional distress, but that can’t actually be true. It feels like it, though.
Because I am apparently a middle-aged divorcée, I spent one pathetic Friday night in October knitting whilst watching a double feature of Mamma Mia! and The Jane Austen Book Club:
Mamma Mia! (2008)
I do love ABBA, and I’m so glad that was one of the major revelations of my Garbage Year of Self-Discovery or Something (aka grad school).
However, this movie. Um. This movie is just so fucking dumb; some of it is in a fun way, and some of it is just dumb. I don’t know.
Pierce Brosnan gets a lot of shit for his performance in this, and yeah, his singing is not great, but his acting seems…reasonable? Meryl Streep, on the other hand, just—is Meryl Streep’s performance in Mamma Mia! actually supposed to be good? There was just so much…mugging for the camera, I guess, and I was so not into it. On the one hand, right, it’s a musical, so this heightened level of acting is kind of necessary. But I guess I expected more from Meryl Streep given the whole sort of histrionic culture of “MERYL STREEP CAN DO NO WRONG” and the fact that she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in this.
The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
This follows five women and Hugh Dancy in the titular Jane Austen book club as they read Austen’s six published novels and relate them to each of their personal lives. I felt like a lot of the connections that are made between Austen’s themes and the characters’ lives are pretty generic and surface level, but I also understand why this sort of movie wouldn’t want to get too deep into Austen; the majority of the audience probably has a general understanding of Austen’s place in pop culture but hasn’t necessarily read all of her works, so watching characters discuss the specific details of, say, Northanger Abbey might not be the most appealing. And maybe the level of discussion pictured is normal for book clubs—I assume a lot, and probably most, book groups exist as an excuse to socialize and their main purpose is not to have super academic literary discussions. Rather, it seems like the context of a book discussion would give people the chance to talk about certain personal topics—their views on Love, Life, Death, etc.—that might not arise organically and might in fact be too intimate to discuss in other social settings.
But yeah, this movie was fine, I guess; it won’t be joining the list of favorites or anything. It sort of makes me want to rewatch The Book Group, a British comedy drama about a Glasgow-based book group that I think had a similar “pleasant enough way to spend an evening but ultimately a kind of mediocre piece of media” vibe.
The History Boys (2006)
Yes, this was great. I mean, students at an all-boys grammar school in 1980s Yorkshire preparing for their university entrance exams? Hell yeah, right?
There was some interesting commentary on college admissions. When applying to top tier schools, there’s always the whole thing where it’s not enough to just be smart, because every applicant is smart—you have to be interesting and stand out in some way. Irwin, the teacher who’s brought in to help the boys prepare for the exam, encourages them to sort of be controversial for the sake of it in their historical interpretation on their essays, and there are some interesting conversations about that in terms of what is the Purpose of teaching history?
But man, we mostly just want to talk about the gay stuff:
It’s weird how Hector’s (Richard Griffiths) fondling of the students is mostly played for laughs—certainly by the students within the movie, but maybe by the movie as a whole? For context: Hector is sort of the typical Beloved and Inspirational teacher that we expect from the movies, but he also regularly invites students for rides on his motorcycle and touches them inappropriately during the ride. And this is something that the students just treat as an eccentricity and are seemingly not traumatized by; Hector remains their favorite teacher. In fact, when the headmaster finds out about the motorcycle rides and tries to force Hector to retire, one of the students actually blackmails him into reinstating Hector. So yeah—that’s a thing that feels pretty unusual.
Also unusual in a much less disturbing way: the Dakin/Irwin relationship. Holy shit. Normally, I’m pretty squicked out by any sort of student/teacher romance, because the power dynamics there tend to be super gross and uncomfortable. But somehow this ends up coming across as hot rather than gross5, for a variety of potential reasons:
- Nothing beyond subtext happens until the end of the school year6, after Dakin has received a scholarship to Oxford.
- The actors playing the student (Dominic Cooper) and the teacher (Stephen Campbell Moore) are basically the same age and both way older than 18.
- The student is the one propositioning the teacher and it’s pretty clear that he has all the power in this situation. Like, even though Irwin was perhaps attracted to Dakin throughout the school year, he definitely wasn’t going to act on it in any way; while the concept of a high school teachers being attracted to their students is automatically a big NOPE to most of us, I suppose we should acknowledge that high school teachers are not eunuchs and there’s a major difference between harboring an (involuntary) attraction and actually acting on that attraction. In any case, there wasn’t any sense of sexual grooming or whatever on the teacher’s part here.
Anyway, it’s totally fascinating seeing Dakin’s progression from “I don’t understand it. I’ve never wanted to please anybody the way I do him. Girls not excepted.” to
DAKIN: I’m just kicking the tires on this one, but further to the drink…What I was really wondering was, is there any chance of your sucking me off? Or something similar. Actually, that would please Hector.
DAKIN: “Your sucking me off.” It’s a gerund. He likes gerunds. And “your being scared shitless,” that’s another gerund.
IRWIN: I didn’t know you were that way inclined.
DAKIN: I’m not. But it’s the end of term, I’ve got into Oxford. I thought we might push the boat out.
It’s just such an interesting power dynamic—especially given the specific “suck me off” rather than “I’ll suck you off” aspect to it. It remains unconsummated because of an unfortunate motorcycle accident in the final act, but still.
 We have very mixed feelings about the Emma/Knightley relationship, given that he HUNG OUT WITH HER WHEN SHE WAS A BABY AND HE WAS 16 AND HAS HE BEEN UNCONSCIOUSLY GROOMING HER TO BE HIS WIFE THIS WHOLE TIME??? IS HE JUST JOKING WHEN HE TELLS EMMA:
[I] have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least.
BECAUSE EWW. But it’s very hard not to ship it when one is reading Emma or watching the Romola Garai/Jonny Lee Miller adaptation, so idk. ^
 To this non humanities major who still does not have a clear idea of when trains started being A Thing. ^
 Some solid flailing from my favorite Twilight/Hannibal recapper here. ^
 It’s possible that I once was moved to tears by reading a fucking recap of Pacific Rim. It was perhaps not my most dignified moment. ^
 I mean, contrast this with the definitely uncomfortable student/teacher romantic arc that Emily Blunt’s character has in The Jane Austen Book Club. In that case, it took place in the middle of the (American) school year, and Blunt’s character was married. So even though it has some similarities to the relationship in The History Boys, in that Blunt and the actor playing the student were actually about the same age, and the student is the one to proposition her, it still comes across as inappropriate in a way that I don’t think is just due to some double standard regarding same-sex vs. opposite-sex pairings. ^
 And it’s maybe not even official school, since they’re just focused on preparing for their entrance exams and don’t seem to actually be receiving grades? Totally unclear what the deal is with the British school system. ^