Serena’s Review: “How to Break an Evil Curse”

Book: “How to Break and Evil Curse” by Laura Morrison

Publishing Info: Black Spot Books, October 202

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: The King of the Land of Fritillary has incurred the wrath of his ex-bestie, the evil wizard Farland Phelps. Farland curses the King’s firstborn to die if touched by sunlight, and just like that, Julianna must spend her life in the depths of a castle dungeon (emptied of prisoners and redecorated in the latest fashion, of course). A young woman of infinite resourcefulness, all she needs is a serving spoon, a loose rock in the wall, and eight years of digging, and Julianna is free to explore the city—just not while the sun is out!

Warren Kensington is a member of a seafaring traveling theater troupe and the unwitting magical cure to the curse. When the pirate ship he’s sailing on is damaged in stormy seas, he goes ashore and bumps into Julianna on the streets of the capitol. The pair accidentally set in motion a chain of events that uncovers Farland’s plans to take over the throne. Julianna, Warren, and some friends they meet along the way are the only ones who can save the monarchy.

But the farther they go along their increasingly ludicrous journey, and the more citizens they meet, the more Julianna wonders whether her dad’s throne is worth saving. From an evil and greedy wizard? Well, sure. But from the people of Fritillary who are trying to spark a revolution? The people suffering in poverty, malnutrition, and other forms of medieval-esque peasant hardship? It doesn’t take Julianna long to find that the real world is far more complicated than a black-and-white fairytale.

Review: I’m always on the look out for a good fantasy/comedy series. While most of what I consider good fantasy obviously contains comedy elements, it’s typically nothing more than some witty dialogue. Nothing that would justify an added genre to the book itself. But, of course, they exist! “The Princess Bride” is a perennial favorite. And as I just discovered in a recent review of “The Princess Will Save You” , the comedy is central to the success of that story. So I was excited to see fantasy story that was actively marketed as a comedy, finally!

Julianna has grown up in a dungeon. Well, a dungeon that her mother practiced her interior design skills on to make as comfortable as possible, but there’s no getting rid of the decidedly dungeon-ness of it all, old prisoner ghosts and all. But with a curse that dooms her to death if touched by sunlight, Julianna’s royal parents didn’t see another choice. But that hasn’t stopped Julianna from taking things into her own hands and tunneling outside the castle walls. There she meets the young man who could be her salvation, a strange mix of boy who loves music and grew up on a pirate ship. Things only get more strange from there as they set out on an adventure that may finally free Julianna from her curse.

This book was an interesting read. There were times where I was all in on it and its concept, laughing out loud and just enjoying the romp that was being laid out before me. But at other times, I found the humor and comedy elements to be almost relentless and a bit overbearing. Unlike “The Princess Will Save You” that was almost aggressively earnest and lacking witty dialogue even, this book throws itself as the comedy element, never letting a single joke slide by. It’s a tough thing to review or critique because much of it was successful. The story uses footnotes to pretty great effect and doesn’t ever take it or its own ridiculous concept too seriously. But at other times, I felt I need some sense of weight or a different emotional tone to help balance out this nonstop comedy.

The characters themselves sere all very engaging, maybe especially the villains and the backstory we get for them at the very beginning of the story. I also liked Julianna and Warren, though it was with these two main characters that I most wished for a bit more emotional depth from the book. The funny moments for them hit home, but it was hard to feel truly invested in either of their stories when everything was played for laughs.

The pacing was also a bit strange in the book. As I mentioned, the first part of the story focuses on the villains and their history with Julianna’s parents and the curse that is ultimately laid upon them. So there are a number of time jumps involved in telling this part of the story. Id din’t find it confusing or anything, but it does take a while for the story to finally settle in on our main characters. It seems to take quite a while for them to even meet.

Lastly, I do want to touch on the marketing failure with this book. From what I saw, this was being marketed as a high fantasy novel. This isn’t doing anyone any favors. Not the book, not the author, and not the readers. High fantasy is a fairly specific brand of fantasy (we’re talking “Lord of the Rings” and “ASOIAF” type fantasy). It is usually more serious, has a grand scope, and includes a lot of complicated world-building. But it is by no means the only type of fantasy, and it’s also not “better” fantasy than any other type. I think too often that seems to be the perception which then leads to publishers trying to attach that genre description to all of their new releases in the hopes of attracting more readers. But it’s not “better!” Sure, some people prefer that type of fantasy, but others actually prefer more light-hearted fantasy or want a good fantasy comedy now and then. By not properly identifying the book, you have a bunch of readers picking it up expecting the wrong thing and becoming disappointed. And then the readers who were actually looking for this type of book could be put off by the often intimidating aspects of what we expect from typical high fantasy. It’s too bad, because I feel like they almost set this book up to fail by doing this.

So, while it’s definitely not high fantasy, if you are looking for a comedy fantasy story, this might be a good one to check out. Just know that when I say comedy, I really mean it. In some ways the comedy aspect felt more prevalent than the fantasy itself.

Rating 7: A fun enough story, though missing the necessary emotional weight to balance out all of the fluff and laughs.

Reader’s Advisory:

“How to Break an Evil Curse” is a newer title, so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet. But it should be on “Fantasy-Comedy Novels Outside of ‘Discworld.'”

Find “How to Break an Evil Curse” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Emma Approved” [2013]

mv5bmtq0mjewndk5of5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjuznta3mde40._v1_sy1000_cr007231000_al_YouTube Series: “Emma Approved”

Release Year: 2013

Actors: Emma – Joanna Sotomura

Alex Knightley – Brent Bailey

Harriet Smith – Dayeanne Hutton

Frank Churchill – Stephen A. Chang

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

First off, as a comparison to the other YouTube adaptation I’ve reviewed in this series, I think this version is much more successful than the last. For one thing, I think we got to actually see more of the events we’re familiar with from the book on the screen. In the other version, we mostly had Lizzie telling the viewers second-hand stories or trying to re-enact them. Not only do I not thing that actress was fully up to the job, but it was always going to be a hard sell when you don’t have the actual people in front of you. Here, the casting is not only perfect and this Emma, I believe, is a strong actor, but many of the scenes and conversations from the book are included on screen. Having a larger and more varied cast really helps this version.

I’ll get into it more later, too, but this version also comes off better than the “Lizzie Bennett Diaries” in the romance arena. Alex Knightley is in the majority of the episodes, and it is the relationship between him and Emma that carries the show almost equal with Emma’s own arc of foibles and ultimate self-realization. Due to his being around for so much more of the story, and for the audience to have plenty of opportunities to see him and Emma together, their ultimate romantic conclusion is much less awkward and weird to watch from a viewer perspective.

As a comparison to the book, I think it does really well. It really hits most of the major plot points, and the set-up of Emma and Alex running a match-making/event organizing company really works well for much of it. I loved the clever interpretation it brought to many of the characters and important scenes. They also threw in a bunch of lines from the book that are sure to please avid “Emma” lovers.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this version more than the other. I had wondered whether simply viewing these a second time was part of my struggle with “The Lizzie Bennett Diares,” but I really enjoyed this one, probably as much as the first time. So, I think this one is just better overall. I think the story is probably better suited for this type of thing. The acting was better. And overall, it just came together in a much more seamless, natural way.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I really like Joanna Sotomura’s take on Emma. I think she nails the essential elements of the character. She’s charming, witty, and overly confident. But also endearing and sympathetic, so when she blunders, it’s easy for the viewers to be in her corner and root for her ultimate success. Even early in the show, when we see her beginning to doubt the success of the Westons’ marriage, her balance of cocky over-assurance and intervention still comes off as sympathetic when paired with her obvious concern. It’s clear that she values her reputation as a success, but we also never doubt that she cares about those around her.

All of this is even more striking once Caroline Lee shows up. Alex Knightley even compares the two, saying they have a lot in common about interfering in other’s lives thinking they know best. Emma protests that she is nothing like Caroline, and while we can all see the point that Alex is making, Emma is also right. It’s distinctly clear to the viewers that they are different and while Emma blunders sometimes and doesn’t see everything clearly, she, unlike Caroline, truly does care about those she thinks she is helping and hurts for them when she messes things up.

I also really like this version of Harriet Smith and Emma’s older sister, Izzy. Harriet is a perfect modern adaptation of the character we have on the page. She clearly idolizes Emma, and while I, personally, don’t put much stock in fashion choices as a major personal improvement, we do see her gain confidence in herself.

And Izzy’s struggles with her husband are very relatable, not being able to stand up for herself in the face of her husband’s strict adherence to financial planning. Here, too, we see Emma really shine as she sees a problem that no one else, including Izzy, sees and manages to fix, albeit with a few bumps in the road. It’s actually one of the few moments where Alex’s Knightley’s criticisms of her come off as the least sympathetic, as anyone hearing Izzy’s account of how her requests have been constantly denied can see that Emma has the right of the situation, not Alex or his brother. Complaints that John feels like choices are being made behind his back land on supremely unsympathetic ears to my mind. But I’m also biased as a stay-at-home mom (for now) myself and Izzy’s situation razed my hackles immediately.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I also really like this version of Mr. Knightley. I think this is probably what stands out the most when comparing my experience watching this adaptation and “The Lizzie Bennett Diares”: there was really no escaping, there, the challenge of having your leading man absent for half of the run and then only in a handful of episodes after that. Here, Alex is almost in every single episode, and his bantering, lecturing friendship with Emma is clearly the foundation upon which all the rest of the show is built.

The actor really nails the balance between fond dismay at Emma’s actions and the more serious interventions when he sees her crossing a line. His frequent exclamations of “Emma!” are perfectly in-tune with how I’d imagine a modern Knightley would interact with Emma. The idea of them being business partners is also a clever way of keeping the two constantly in each other’s circles and Alex Knightley constantly attuned to Emma’s antics.

He also does very well with the few fights they have, lecturing Emma on her intervention into Harriet’s life (she’s not even a client!) and her poor treatment of Maddie Bates towards the end. But we also see him stand by her when it matters, catching himself in the middle of his anger about Emma’s interference in their siblings’ relationship when he realizes that Emma may truly be on to something that none of the rest of them see.

Perhaps it’s due to the increased screen time or just the character himself, but I was a much bigger fan of this actor’s Knightley than I was of Darcy in the other version. While Darcy, by the very nature of the character, is a bit harder to warm up to, the actor didn’t really have enough “oomf” to land him as endearing once he did arrive. It’s a very hard line to walk, trying to make a romantic hero who rarely smiles appealing. So this character was probably much more easy, but I still think credit goes to the actor for doing such a good job.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Mr. Elton’s character is reimagined into a snobby politician, and it’s a great alternative. He’s just as insincere and ambitious as the original character, and it’s easy for audiences to quickly see that Emma is sniffing up the wrong tree with him. There’s also a great adherence to the original story with Emma misunderstanding who gifts (poems in the original, flowers/yogurt/concert tickets here) are for. And then later Emma writes a song to have Harriet perform, and Elton Tweets it out, with Emma clearly missing that he is taking the song as proof of Emma’s interest, not Harriet’s. When it all comes to a head, he is all the more unlikable for being such a stuck-up snob. This Harriet is nowhere near as “questionable” as the version in the book where things like unknown parents could be a very real detractor. What’s actually wrong with this Harriet? Nothing, other than not being as fancy as Emma or the later Mrs. Caroline Lee/Elton.

Speaking of Caroline, that has to be one of the best surprises of this entire run, and a perfect nod to fans who watched both series. Those who have know to immediately dislike her and understand her nods to “not minding documentaries.” But she’s also obviously bad enough for new viewers to not need much to equally dislike her. I love the substitution for calling Mr. Knightley “Knightley,” to calling Alex “Al.” And, of course, Emma’s complete disgust at it all.

Frank Churchill is also perfectly cast. I have to imagine he watched some other versions of “Emma” before taking this part as there seem to be direct nods to other actors’ versions of the part in the way he performs it. Even in the delivery of his lines, he just fits perfectly alongside all the other variations of this character we’ve seen. And, in a satisfying twist to the story, his truly bad actions, like flirting with Emma and dismissing Jane so harshly, are not swept under the rug. Instead, she dumps him, and the show ends with him realizing he wants her back and will have to work for it. It’s a dose of justice for the Jane Fairfax character who I always sided with Mr. Knightley on: “I feel sorry for her.”

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance in this show is probably almost as important as the depiction of Emma herself. Unlike the book, to most media consumers, it’s pretty obvious from the start that Emma and Alex are endgame, thus their chemistry and interactions are important from the very first. Luckily, these actors have great chemistry together, and their teasing, friendly relationship is just the sort that appeals to fans of rom-coms.

We never see anything truly overt on either of their sides throughout most of the show, but it’s still pretty clear. Alex’s early dislike of Frank Churchill is probably the biggest clue on his part. And, of course, Emma’s dismissal at her friend’s theories about Alex and Jane speak to her unknowing interest in him.

I really liked how they played Emma’s realization about her true feelings for Alex. The actor really manages to nail the shock of Harriet’s confession and then through mostly subtle facial expressions, demonstrate Emma’s change of heart. It’s also really great how they play the scene where Emma is trying to be a good friend to Alex but puts him off from his confession due to her concerns that he is about to confess his love for Harriet. When she chases after him again, there’s some really nice humor in her trying to build herself up to hear the news. And then, later, Alex’s question about what she thought he was about to say when the truth.

I also really like the final payoff we get for a running joke we see throughout about flowers being romantic. Early on, Elton brings Harriet a new kind of yogurt and flowers for Emma. And it is only after the whole debacle comes to light that Emma has to re-orient herself with a new mantra: “Food means friendship. Flowers mean romance.” So it’s really great to see this come around again when Alex gives her flowers, and she, bewildered, says “But…flowers mean romance.” It’s very sweet.

On a general note, I also found this romance much less voyeuristic and uncomfortable to see come to a head. I’m not sure why. It’s probably some combination of the increased screen time for the romantic hero. The fact that the Alex character is just much easier to see in a romance plot line than the version of Darcy we had in the other YouTube series. Or the simple fact that these actors had better chemistry. It also probably helps that we see their entire relationship progress and the fact that they are so comfortable with each other from the start makes the audience more comfortable as well. Lizzie and Darcy were so awkward together that it’s no wonder they made others uncomfortable watching them!

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Emma and Alex do most of the heavy lifting as far as the comedy goes as well. They by far get the most screen time and, with their character arcs, have the most opportunities to take advantage of comedic elements in the story. Harriet is too sincere much of the time to really be funny. Jane Fairfax is almost too serious to really like in this version.While I like that her relationship with Frank Churchill ends, this was probably the one character in this show who seems the most different than their book counterpart. She’s almost so snobby in her “do-goodery” that one finds oneself coming down on Emma’s side of their conflict. In the book, it’s clear that Jane is a good natured, though quiet, woman and most of Emma’s problems with her are based purely in the fact that she makes Emma insecure. Here, however, Jane is kind of off-putting, making Emma’s discomfort feel completely natural.

This mostly leaves Maddie Bates to carry the rest of the weight for the comedy side of things. And she’s great! I really love how they carried over Mrs. Bates deafness and how Maddie Bates will dictate back conversations with her mother by starting out “And then I said ‘MOMMA!'”, yelling that last word at the camera. It’s just great. I also really liked this version’s interpretation of the Box Hill incident. Here it’s for a restaurant opening, Boxx Hill, that Emma and her company are hosting. Maddie tries to bring forward her (terrible) home-made jams, and Emma publicly mocks her for how bad they are. It’s a perfect adaptation of the incident, and even though we don’t see it, we get to see plenty of the fall-out as Jane quits the company and Alex delivers the famous “Badly done!” line. But, of course, it all ends well with Emma apologizing to Maddie Bates, and Maddie demonstrating how truly good and kind-hearted she is by quickly forgiving Emma and working to help her in Alex’s absence.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Not a lot for this one, it seems: the actors who played Emma and Alex Knightley were dating while they filmed this. That probably helped with the good ole chemistry. They’re also both currently in a show called “Quarantine” about out-of-work soap opera cast members in L.A. Mildly interested in checking that out, mostly due to the adorableness of these two here.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Just a cute little moment between these two. Really, their relationship is the funniest part of the entire thing.

In two weeks, I’ll the first half of “Mansfield Park.”

 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Clueless” [1995]

mv5bmzbmogq0nwitotzjzc00zdaxltgyotetodjiywq2ywniywvjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynte1njy5mg4040._v1_sy1000_cr006691000_al_Movie: “Clueless”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Cher – Alicia Silverstone

Josh – Paul Rudd

Tai – Brittany Murphy

Christian – Justin Walker

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

“Clueless” is definitely a movie of its time, but it’s still a blast to watch today. Similarly to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s work which means that while some things follow along pretty faithfully, there are also a lot of changes to make it work as a modern tale.

I really like the initial match-making switch. Instead of a governness, we see Cher setting up two of her teachers in an attempt to improve her grade. On one hand, this makes Cher’s reasons much more self-centered than Emma’s, but the change works well, I think. After her initial success, Cher decides that she likes helping people like she did for these two, sad, pathetic teachers. And so she takes Tai (Harriet Smith) under her wing. In many ways, her goal in helping Tai is much more centered around making Tai popular than specifically matching her up with someone. In the book, Emma had already proclaimed a desire to match Mr. Elton up before zeroing in on Harriet. Here, we see Cher directing Tai’s love life more because Tai’s original interest (a drugged up skater boy) would not be a good match for a popular girl. Elton is then selected as a proper match for someone of Tai’s aspiring popularity.

This arc then comes full circle when we see Tai become truly popular and then snap at Cher in all of Tai’s mean girl glory. So Cher’s “what have I done?” is much less about her project girl being interested in someone whom she realizes she cares for (though that is a factor), and more to do with how sweet and nice Tai had been before Cher’s meddling in her life. Luckily, on Tai seems to course correct on her own at the end of the movie.

All of the actors cast for various parts work great, and it’s definitely one of those movies where you see really young version of actors who went on to do bigger projects. Brittany Murphy, for example, is barely recognizable as Tai. And obviously Paul Rudd would go on to be a household name type actor. But even the smaller roles, like the two teachers and Cher’s father, are all pitch perfect and really help round out the movie.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Cher is probably the least likable Emma we’ve come across so far. On one hand, this is understandable because she’s the only teen version we’ve had. At 15-16, she’s four or five years younger than the version in the book and the other two adaptations I’ve reviewed. Not to mention the very different education and expectations she would face in L.A. in the mid-90s versus the Regency period. But she’s also given the fewest opportunities to show her good side as well. The movie leans in heavily to how spoiled she is, doing very little to counterbalance it with good deeds. Like in many other versions, it mainly relies on showing her care towards her father as the best look into her inherent goodness. But as her father is also less likable than other versions…

Not to say that you don’t end up rooting for the character, just that it’s a bit harder. Her constant up-speak is also a bit tough to handle, dating the movie and also signaling what is now a cliche of an entire new level. At the time, it was just a valley girl thing, but now the trope is so often connected with idiocy that it doesn’t do the character any favors to modern viewers.

I do like that the big realization moment for her is less her being rude to one individual, but seeing the type of person she’s turned Tai into. Tai was originally this sweet, friendly character. And after snapping and being rude to Cher, we see Cher realize that actual “value” of the things she’s been sharing with Tai. Tai is like a brutal mirror that is held up to Cher, and that, along with the realization about her general “clueless-ness” is enough to inspire change. It’s also pretty clear that she doesn’t do any of this in an effort to impress Josh, making it feel like the type of change that will be more lasting.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Josh is a pretty solid mid-90s teenage interpretation of Mr. Knightley. Having him being interested in a law (and with a less than stellar mother) is a good excuse for having him want to hang around Cher’s house and work with her dad. Of course, we can’t have him scolding Cher in quite the same way. It wouldn’t come off nearly as well with the age difference being so much more close and the times making it all sound much more patronizing and unappealing if he had done. Instead, we see him being more subtly critical of Cher’s superficial tendencies while at the same time clearly enjoying her company.

And, of course, no discussion about Paul Rudd can be had without acknowledging the freakishness of his lack of aging. It almost makes the age difference seem weird since he looks so much the same when he’s much older that he could just as well be in his mid-thirties in this movie as younger twenties.

I really liked that they included a version of him coming to Tai’s rescue and dancing with her. This version does a weird thing where we have the “rescue” of Tai by Christian, as well, but then it does nothing with this. It’s already established that Christian is gay at this point, and there is no inclusion of Cher becoming confused by any reference of a “rescue” by Tai. It’s kind of a weird choice. Instead, it’s used mostly to elevate Tai’s popularity which results in her later nastiness to Cher. But eh, I still like that they included the Tai/Josh dance thing. It’s a great moment for giving Cher more insight into why Josh is such a great guy.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Elton is by far the biggest “villain” in this movie. Not only is he not interested in Tai, a stuck-up ass about popularity status, and all of that. He repeatedly accosts Cher when she’s clearly said “no,” pretty much forcing her to get out of the car to avoid him. And then he leaves her in a bad part of town to be mugged. Much worse that the book version of Mr. Elton. I do like that he’s one of the few characters whose name remained the same. I guess it works pretty well for a snobby L.A. teenage boy in the 90s.

Christian, on the other hand, is really not much of a villain at all. Other than perhaps leading on Cher more than he should have, he seems like a pretty decent guy. It’s kind of unclear why he misleads her at all in the first place. He must know that she’s misinterpreting his actions, but at the same time, he’s not too subtle about hiding true orientation. Everyone other than Cher seems to see it, and we don’t see any push back in the movie itself about it. It’s definitely a unique take on her misunderstanding with this character role. This makes much more sense than any hidden romance would have, given the time period. And it’s kind of nice to have the movie end with Cher and Christian kind of being besties, instead of the tense, friendship-pretty-much-over state that Emma and Frank Churchill are in at the end of the book.

There’s also the jerk lawyer guy who snaps at Cher at the very end of the movie, thus making Josh come to her defense, thus serving as the impetus for the relationship getting started. So is he really a villain in the end?

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance in this movie does play second fiddle to the comedy. There are a few moments here and there that speak to Josh and Cher’s ultimate future, but they are scattered in between the bigger comedy scenes featuring Tai, Cher, and Dionne’s antics. We have the aforementioned dancing scene, of course.  There’s a small moment where Cher and Josh are hanging out at home watching a movie, and Cher seems to make a passing comment that sometimes having a quiet evening at home is more fun than all the social outings one could come up with.

And Josh is the one to come to Cher’s rescue after the Elton incident. This serves as a good point for Josh realizing that he’s into Cher as we see Cher correct Josh’s then girlfriend on some quote from Shakespeare. Josh smiles at this and seems not at all concerned that his girlfriend is pretty displeased at being shown up by a high schooler. And we get an even clearer idea of his interest when he follows Christian and Cher on their “date” just for “safety.” It’s very cute.

The actual romantic conclusion of them kissing on the stairs is a bit awkward, I think but fine enough. And then I think the cut to the wedding scene is pretty hilarious and a nice hats off to Jane Austen’s endings always featuring weddings of the main characters. And in this scene, the already established relationship between Josh and Cher reads as much more natural and enjoyable to witness.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Well, watching it now, there’s two sides to the comedy coin. There are the things the movie meant to be funny. And there are the things that are simply hilarious because of how dated it makes the movie feel. The very first scene, even, with Cher selecting her outfit on this old computer screen is just comical. Especially because it’s supposed to be set up as a way to establish how well-off Cher is. But to modern eyes…it’s some janky stuff.

The fashion, also, is hilarious. Even growing up in the 90s myself, it’s hard to get a good read on how accurate this way versus how much of it was blown up to extremes to show off Cher’s situation. Either way…man, gotta love it. Even Cher spends a moment (in an odd tonal break in the movie) to point out how bad men’s fashion was at the time. But, on the other hand, her friend Dionne is pretty much literally wearing a plastic bucket for a hat in the opening scene. So.

Dionne and her boyfriend don’t have any obvious parallels in the book itself that I can think of. But they play well for humor here. I especially like how all the comedic moments early on that highlight their bickering and public feuding are later tied together to show that, while they enjoy the drama in the crowd, in private they are much more caring and loving towards each other. In this way, they serve as a good example of love to Cher as she’s going through her awakening period.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

The director was asked to simply create a movie for teenagers. It was her own fondness of reading “Emma” as a teenager that inspired her to adapt that book into a teen movie.

There are 63 different costume changes in this movie.

Gwyneth Paltrow was considered for the role, but never auditioned. One would imagine she had her own “Emma” thing going around then.

While according to filming this was his second movie, “Clueless” was released first and thus is the movie that introduced the world to the lovely Paul Rudd.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

I didn’t actually do it, but I was tempted to count the number of “As ifs!” we had in this movie.

This seemed to be the most classic “Emma” moment in the entire movie:

In two weeks, I’ll review the YouTube series “Emma Approved.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” [2012]

mv5bmtg1otk0mzg4nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwotm3mtm5oq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Web Series: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

Release Year: 2012

Actors: Lizzie Bennet – Ashley Clements

William Darcy – Daniel Vincent Gordh

Jane Bennet – Laura Spencer

Lydia Bennet – Mary Kate Wiles

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I watched this for the first time a few years ago. It had been out for a while as “Emma Approved” was also up and concluded. I remember flying through both series pretty quickly and enjoying the heck out of them (and, for the first time, being really annoyed by all the YouTube ads that were breaking up my experience). So, to get a wide range of examples of Jane Austen adaptations, I wanted to include both of these web series in this year’s project.

Sadly, it doesn’t quite hold up as much a second time around. This isn’t a mark against it overall, just that I think it’s the kind of thing that is more of an “experience” watching the first time and less enjoyable the second go around where the limitations of the format begin to glare more when the novelty has worn off. But I’ll start with a few of the positive things that stood out this go-around.

First, I think the series is very creative, especially with the way it changed certain aspects of the original story to fit a modern setting. Woes about family finances become more grounded in talks about second mortgages. Different approaches to marriage become different approaches to career paths. Pemberley becomes Darcy’s media company and Catherine DeBourgh becomes a venture capitalist who is funding Mr. Collins’s own media enterprise. Lydia is a party girl and Wickham is a dumb jock. Even small things like changing Mr. Bingley’s name to Bing Lee are creative as heck. I have to imagine it was really fun writing this series.

Also, for the most part, all of the actors are well-cast and, while clearly distinctive from their book counterparts, they all fit well with the same basic personalities and storylines from the original. I’ll obviously talk about some of the big players later, but I’ll just add here that I particularly liked this version of Charlotte (the hilarious and practical behind-the-scenes counterpart in the production of Lizzie’s videos) and of Georgiana/Gigi (a fresh faced and bubbly presence who gets much more involved in the matchmaking side of things with regards to her brother and Lizzie than the original would ever have dreamed of).

However, this go-around, the story felt unnecessarily drawn out and was rather tedious during the middle portion. It takes a long time to even get to the first “proposal,” let alone everything that came later. I think a good number of episodes probably could have been cut and the series would have ultimately kept up its pace and rhythm better. I have to imagine that this was a lesson learned for “Emma Approved” which has a shorter run time even though it is based off the longer book of the two.

The series also struggled with some of its more serious moments. The actors all felt more at ease with the comedy than the drama and there were times where some of it seemed to slip in quality from the rest. It’s just the kind of thing that is going to play more naturally with a comedic topic. Once we get into the drama with Lydia, I was not only beginning to feel the length of the show again but started to become more uncomfortable watching it. Like the romance, it was hard not to feel voyeuristic about these more serious portions. Yes, my brain knew it was all acted out anyways, but the other part of me cringed for seeing these intimate moments of seemingly “regular” people.

Overall,  I think it’s well worth checking out by all Austen fans. Though I will say that for me, at least, it was an experience that didn’t hold up to a repeat. Which is totally fine! I still remember loving it the first time and anyone who hasn’t seen it and loves these stories will probably feel the same. I do remember liking “Emma Approved” better, so we’ll see how that does the second go-around.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

While the show is definitely bringing new twists to this story, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this Lizzie herself. Due to the nature of this story, her prejudice against Darcy does seem extreme to the point of rather obsessive. I mean, we’ve all met rude guys, but she takes it pretty far. And, overall, this Lizzie is much more cynical and judgmental of almost everyone around her than the version in the book. Elizabeth Bennett definitely jumped to conclusions, but she also seemed to generally treat people with a bit more kindness than this Lizzie. Again, the nature of this series, being a video diary for Lizzie, kind of sets her up for failure here. Most all of it is her talking about other people. And what are diaries made up of?

Yep, diaries = talking crap about a bunch of people behind their back. But when it’s a web series and that’s all you have…your heroine kind of comes off like a bit of a jerk to those around her. True, by the end of the series she does come around on all of this, but it’s still a bit much at times.

The worst was her fall-out with Charlotte. The idea is good, to exchange practicality about marriage with practicality about careers, with Charlotte not subscribing to Lizzie’s “go for the dream” job approach. But, like the problem I had with the 2008 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” this Mr. Collins isn’t that bad (at least not for a first boss, and we’ve all had bad bosses, so c’mon) and Lizzie’s reaction seems completely overblown. Even more so here than in other versions of this story.

Charlotte lays out her reasoning pretty clearly: her family is poor, she thinks much of career success is based on luck, and often a job is a job, something that you make a living doing. I mean…this speaks so much truth to my generation, a bunch of people who graduated from college with massive debts right into a recession where jobs were scarce and those that did exist barely paid.  It’s the RIGHT outlook! And, unlike marriage, a job isn’t meant to be forever. This is the exact sort of golden opportunity that you’d be stupid, and Lizzie is stupid for turning down! You start out with a company in a great position, and after a few years, leverage it into your dream job. This is just reality, and it has all the luck that Charlotte mentioned written all over it: just handed to Lizzie, and then Charlotte, on a gold platter for really no good reason other than a past connection and them being in the right place at the right time. And then Lizzie just tears into Charlotte over it. It’s pretty obnoxious, really. Granted, she does come around pretty quickly. But it’s a tough thing to recover from so early in the show. Not a good look for Lizzie.

I also had a few qualms with the acting itself. I think the actress was best in her comedy moments, especially the dramatizations of past scenes with her parodies of other people. But when the script called for more serious moments, be it the angry confrontation with Darcy, the sister squabble with Lydia and eventual reunion, and even the more serious parts of the romance…I just didn’t feel like the actress was really cut out for it. She tended to overact and her expressions and reactions felt a bit forced.

On the other hand, I really liked the actresses who played Jane and Lydia. I’ll talk more about Lydia in the comedy section. Jane, however, was pretty solid. She’s sweet, kind of quiet, and a great interpretation of the book character into a modern woman. We only see her on and off, but she’s a nice balance to both Lizzie and Lydia.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

We don’t really see much of our heroes in this version. Bing shows up early enough, thinking the videos are just messages to Charlotte. I really like this interpretation of Bing. He’s charming, funny, and easy going. But! Importantly, he’s NOT an idiot. Yes, he does get lead around by his friends, but the series makes great efforts at the end for him to experience his own personal reflection and start making choices for himself. He drops out of med school, admitting he had only been doing it because that’s what his family wanted. And instead he was spending his time working with charities. Jane at first turns down his offer to follower her to NYC where she gets a new job. But after hearing about these moments of clarity on his part and his efforts to begin to make his own choices, she relents and the two are together at least. It’s a nice mini arc for the character, and it ties up some questions about his character quite nicely by allowing him to experience his own personal growth.

I mention this a bit more in the romance section below, but it’s really too bad that we don’t see more of Darcy until at least halfway through the series. Even Bing, we have a face to connect to the stories much earlier which goes a long way for how much we care about his and Jane’s storyline. But I do like the character a lot when we do meet him. His mannerisms are of the sort that it’s easy to see how Lizzie’s interpretations of his rudeness and coldness came to be. And it’s fun to see him loosen up gradually. I particularly liked the last few episodes after they’re together. There’s some fun nods to the book with a mention of his learning to be teased and dealing with Lizzie’s mother and father.

I also liked the way the show used career opportunities instead of proposals as the big kicks for each of the ladies. And through these moments, the heroes also had their moments to shine, with Bing prioritizing Jane’s work and going with her to NYC rather than asking her to stay, and Darcy, perhaps foolishly, originally asking Lizzie to work at his company. She is quick to point out the problems with this, but we also see how he plans to use his network connections to help her with her start-up.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

I really liked this take on Wickham. He’s only on a few episodes, but it’s enough to see how charming he can be. It’s also enough for the viewers, at least, to see what a complete idiot he is. He’s full on “dumb jock” through and through. Even Lizzie seems embarrassed by him at a few points. The adjustments to his storyline also work very neatly, switching out an estate for a full ride to Harvard, money that Wickham blows through in one year before asking for more.

His affair with Gigi is also a nice twist, with them forming a relationship and living together until Darcy shows up unexpectedly and proves that Wickham was only in it for the money by offering him a check to leave, which he takes and does. It’s nearly as traumatic as the elopement would have been in the book, but it serves well enough. The only thing that is a bit of a sticking point is that, given the current culture, while it may be embarrassing for Gigi, it’s definitely not the kind of secret that should affect her at all if widely known. It could be easily told and sink Wickham, and I sincerely doubt anyone would think anything bad about the poor girl caught up in it all.

The sex tape with Lydia is far more effective as a stand-in for the life-long horror he intends to bring down on her. The internet is forever, and that kind of thing, once published is almost impossible to put back in a box. It would have followed Lydia forever. It’s a pretty basic practice for most employers to run Google searches on their prospective candidates, so it’s easy to see how this would have had real, tangible effects on her ability to lead a normal life. And, in the end, she gets off way easier than the Lydia in the book. Doesn’t have to have anything to do with Wickham ever again rather than ending up married to the guy.

Lastly, Caroline is the other main villain. I really liked this depiction of Caroline. She’s much more cool and calculated in her manipulation, even hoodwinking Lizzie about her true character. Some of the early videos of her are particularly interesting as the viewer can see Caroline actively fanning the flames of Lizzie’s dislike for Darcy while Lizzie is completely clueless to this manipulation. And then, ultimately, Caroline is the one behind much of the Bing/Jane drama. She arranges a situation at one of her parties to have some drunk guy kiss and unsuspecting Jane right when Darcy is watching. With this in mind, it’s easier to defend Darcy’s interference: he legitimately thought Jane was pulling his friend’s chain. Caroline, however, is the true evil mastermind behind it all.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Yikes, the actual romance in this story is by far the most awkward thing in existence. The format of the show is never more working against itself than in these parts. I just felt super uncomfortable and voyeuristic watching the final kiss and conclusion to Lizzie and Darcy’s story. The build-up to this moment is fine, but the actual kiss itself…oof.

I wish there had been a way of introducing Darcy earlier in the series. The way the story is presented, this isn’t really possible, but once we can actually see the interactions between Lizzie and Darcy’s, it’s much easier to feel invested in their relationship. Really, if this wasn’t a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” which conditions viewers to put importance on the Lizzie/Darcy drama, much of the first half of the series would seem oddly focused on a character we never seem to meet. It makes Lizzie’s fixation and extreme dislike feel all the more strange. Sure, the enactments give us an idea of Darcy’s personality and the social interactions that put Lizzie off in the first place. But all of Lizzie’s enactments are clearly extremes of characters, so when you only have those to rely on for such an important character…It’s just hard to feel invested in any of it, without seeing their awkwardness together. But once he shows up, it’s much better. And it’s even better as we see them develop a tentative friendship with him even participating in some of her mini dramas.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Lydia is by far the funniest character in this series, especially in the first half of the show when she’s mostly just freely being herself , extremes and all. Once Lizzie starts pushing her to be more grown up and the Wickham drama comes in to play, it all gets a bit too serious almost. In the books what you loved about Lydia was also what you couldn’t stand about Lydia: nothing fazed her. Even in the face of social shaming and shunning, she never seemed to bat an eyelash about it and behaved the same way. Here, the story gets more much serious with how Lydia reacts to Lizzie’s perceptions of her, and even more so, the near miss she has with the sex tape.

But! In the beginning, she’s just hilarious. The actress brought a bunch of fun ticks to the character, with all of the hair flipping and camera poses. She also has a bunch of fun catchphrases, and it’s easy to see why she, of all the characters, ended up with some side videos in her own little series. I didn’t watch any of these for this re-watch, so I can’t speak to what those have to offer. But in a lot of ways her character is a breath of fresh air to the earnest and sweet Jane and the cynical Lizzie. She’s bouncy, bright, and ridiculous and brings new levity to all of her scenes.

I also really liked this version of Mr. Collins. While he is pretty ridiculous, he’s not nearly has intolerable as the character in the books. I really liked how he was always name dropping his VC (venture capitalist) Catherine DeBourgh. It was one example of the many perfect substitutions this series made for aspects of the book that wouldn’t work in a modern setting. Lizzie’s impressions of Catherine DeBourgh were also excellent, but only made me wish we could have actually seen the character on screen somehow!

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Kitty becomes Lydia’s cat, “Kitty” who follows her everywhere. Mary is a cousin whom most of them seem to regular forget exists.

The movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary” exists in this world as one of the sisters mentions that Darcy’s name is the same as “that character Colin Firth plays.” So, Colin Firth makes it into even this adaptation, if only in name. It seems that the book “Pride and Prejudice” does not exist, however.

Mrs. Bennet has several plans to get Jane stuck over at Netherfield. One includes sending her over with a jello that, due to the rain, is sure to ruin her dress and force her to stay. Mrs. Bennet also arranges for home improvements which force Jane and Lizzie to stay there for several weeks.

Pemberley is the name of William Darcy’s media business, and he mentions it is named after the part of England that his family is originally from.

Caroline Bingley will make a reappearance in “Emma Approved.”

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

The Mrs. Bennet impersonations were by far the best.

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Emma.” Yes, I know this is out of order, but my quarantine brain read this one first and I didn’t want to do either it or “Mansfield Park” a disservice by speed reading the latter and then trying to review the former months after I actually read it. So, it is what it is!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” [2001]

mv5byjc3nju1ztetnmnjni00yznilwi3owqtmtjmytrkzdc1nde2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Bridget Jones’s Diary”

Release Year: 2001

Actors: Bridget Jones – Renee Zellweger

Mark Darcy – Colin Firth

Daniel Cleaver – Hugh Grant

Bridget’s Mum (actually the character title, according to IMDB!) – Gemma Jones

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

As I mentioned in our comfort reads post on Monday, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is one of my go-to comfort reads when times are stressful. But, I think like most Americans, I watched the movie before I was aware there was a book. And in many ways, it has served a similar purpose, if in a different format. It’s definitely one of those movies I go to when I need a quick laugh and a guaranteed happy ending.

Having just re-read the book this last winter, however, it was interesting to note the various differences between the two stories. While it’s clear that the book was inspired by “Pride and Prejudice,” in many ways the movie leaned much more into this theme than the book ever did itself. Most notably, the similar history and confusion between Mark Darcy/Mr. Darcy and Daniel Cleaver/Mr. Wickham is missing from the book. There, Bridget simply doesn’t get a long with Mark until she begins to be around him more and appreciate his good qualities. But she doesn’t have any false impressions based on lies from Daniel. Similarly, Daniel is a scumbag for actions he takes in this book itself, not any personal history of breaking up Mark’s marriage. It works well in the book, but with much less time to establish its story, I really like that the movie went full throttle with upping the similarities between these two stories.

The characters themselves (other than perhaps Daniel) are a fairly far cry from the originals. Bridge is not a refined lady who earns respect in spite of a nonsense family. Mark Darcy, while stuck up, is not nearly as clueless with women as Mr. Darcy is (especially with that first proposal in the book). Bridget’s mum (an interesting combination of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia) is probably the most similar to her book counterparts.

I’ve watched the two sequels as well, but they don’t capture the same magic as this one. Having lost the connection to the book, the movies fall back on some tired comedy moments, repeating great scenes from this book to lesser effect. I don’t hate them, but they’re definitely not up to the standard that this one. The most unforgivable aspect of them both are the hurdles that are thrown up between Bridget and Mark. The third one is especially bad on this front, and I’ve still not forgiven it.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Bridget Jones is no Elizabeth Bennet, that’s for sure! But that’s not a complaint, as this  movie is clearly not attempting to be a straight modern adaptation (unlike “Clueless” is for “Emma”). Her comedy elements are also not similar to any of the Bennet sisters. In the book, the things that make us laugh at the Bennet sisters are also things that make us, not dislike them, that’s too strong of a word, but things that would disqualify them as leading ladies themselves. Their silliness is of the conceited variety, and they all lack self-awareness. While Bridget is ridiculous, it’s clear that she’s aware of it (if still not able to prevent it in the moment). She’s just the sort of character who is endearing to many women, I think.

We can all sympathize with her struggles with body image. Though I will say that her complaints about weight when starting out from a “whopping” 135 lbs are a bit hard to stomach. I’m not sure if this is a changing times thing or what, but it really stood out to me in this re-watch, how off-base her actual weight was to her struggles. While in some ways this is highly accurate (many women struggle with concerns over weight that wouldn’t occur to anyone looking at them), the way the movie (and book) present it makes it seem like most women are supposed to fall in Bridget’s category. I can’t speak to average weights of women, but I do think that to present 135 lbs as some great normal of “women who want to lose weight” is a bit out of touch. All of that aside, however, the general struggles of beautifying oneself that Bridget goes through are highly relatable.

So, too, her feeling that she always comes across as awkward and ridiculous.

“Because every time I see you, you seem to go out of your way to make me feel like a complete idiot. And you really needn’t bother. I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway.”

Of course, being an extreme, the character often is those things. But her feelings are just the sort that many women struggle with when stuck in a self-critical spot. What makes this really great, however, are the few moments when the camera shifts perspectives to show us Bridget through Mark Darcy’s eyes. Suddenly, through his lens, she is bright, funny, and magnetic in her ease of just being herself. It’s a wonderful way of contrasting the inner struggles that many women have with self-worth with the way they are viewed by those who love them.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

There’s no exaggerating the sheer perfection it was on whomever’s part who had the idea to simply recast Colin Firth as the Mr. Darcy character. In 2001, the BBC version was still fresh enough in everyone’s minds that I’m sure it was a challenge to think of a replacement actor. So whoever was smart enough to just say “Hey, why not just get the same guy?” deserves serious kudos. It’s the kind of thing that could read as very campy in a different movie or with a different character/actor. But here, it works perfectly. Just by having the same actor play the part, the movie benefits from a bunch of unspoken and carried over assumptions. Very little leg work needs to be done to lay the foundation of Darcy’s character or his gradual shift in appreciation for Bridget.

There first meeting is one of the moments that is very similar to the book’s version: an immediate distaste on Darcy’s part, an overheard conversation of rudeness, and the stage is set. However, unlike in the book, here it is almost worse because of Bridget’s more real vulnerability to these types of nasty statements. Elizabeth was self-assured and could see the sheer ridiculousness in Darcy’s rudeness in the book and laugh it off. Bridget has real insecurities she’s dealing with and Mark Darcy’s works strike at painful parts of herself and are harder to take for the viewer who is already rooting for her.

But to contrast this more harsh meeting, we also get to see more of Mark Darcy’s kindness and humor. His offer to let Bridget interview his client when she was on the verge of being fired is very noble, not the least because he’s aware of her tendency to make these types of formal moments rather ridiculous and still goes forward with a live TV interview. And, of course, the birthday dinner that follows. Luckily, unlike the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” we get to see Colin Firth smile and laugh a lot more in this section. It’s a very necessary moment to establish the good chemistry between these two when they’re on their own, uninfluenced by the negative forces often swirling around them (their parents, Natasha, Daniel, etc).

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Natasha, Mark Darcy’s law partner and brief-fiancee, is the Miss Bingley of this story. Though, ending up with even a short engagement, she has much more success than the latter character ever did. She’s only around briefly in a few scenes, but she always serves as a stark contrast to Bridget: cold, uptight, and condescendingly disapproving of anything that approaches fun. Her statements of Bridget and Daniel’s childishness while on their weekend giveaway are in complete opposition to the clear wishfulness that is plastered all over Mark’s face as he watches the other couple goof around. Beyond the comparison, any woman who snaps her fingers at someone to get them to “come along” is by definition a villain. One only wishes that this movie had a similarly cathartic scene between these two as the one where Mr. Darcy shuts Caroline Bingley up with his comments about Elizabeth being one of the handsomest women of his acquaintance.

Daniel, of course, is the true villain. Like Wickham, it’s easy to see the allure and immediate attraction of the character. He’s charming, good looking, and just the sort of confident that makes one feel quite singled-out if he pays you any attention. Bridget is quick to fall under his sway. Unlike Wickham, however, I feel like Daniel is also more obviously sleazy from the start. I’m not sure if it’s just my general “meh”-ness about Hugh Grant or not, but Daniel definitely has a “player” vibe right from the get go that immediately puts up flags. It’s really no shock when Bridget finds another women at his flat half way through the movie.

But his true sleazebag qualities don’t become clear until the last third. Especially during the scene where he breaks up Bridget’s birthday dinner. All of his lines here are just terrible and no woman in her right mind should go for it: “If I can’t make it with you, I can’t make it with anyone.” Yuck! Talk about veiled insults. Luckily, Bridget isn’t taken in a second time. Though it still isn’t until much later that she realizes that Daniel lied about his relationship with Mark, that Daniel slept with Mark’s wife, not the other way around.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

I’m halfway convinced that Colin Firth was cast as Mark Darcy just so we could get the exact same adoring look from him to Bridget as we had from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth. It’s so distinctive that you can’t help but notice the similarities between the two. However, extra props go out to the child actor who plays the young Mark Darcy in the flash-back credits scenes we get. Towards the end of the sequence, we see him give the same adoring look to young Bridget, and it’s nearly pitch perfect to Colin Firth’s look. Bravo!

Mark Darcy definitely has one up on Mr. Darcy when it comes to the “first proposal” scene in this movie. Obviously not an actual proposal, but it serves the same purpose: letting the clueless heroine in on the fact that she’s attracted the attention of the hero, someone she’s hated up to this point and thought hated her. But, unlike Mr. Darcy, Mark avoids too many direct insults to her family and doesn’t have the same overarching pride throughout his speech. He does list off some of Bridget’s quirks, but sums it up by saying that he “likes her just as she is.” Notably, not “in spite of what she is,” which is essentially what the original Mr. Darcy said. Bridget’s later meet-up with her friends highlights just how special this little phrase is, with each of her friends bewildered and asking for clarification, is she sure he didn’t mention a smaller nose or something?

Bridget, of course, follows up with her own speech towards the end of the movie. She slips in a funny little line about rethinking the length of his sideburns (something I think most audiences would agree with here and potentially also in the 1995 movie), but she ends with her also liking him. Of course, this is all followed with his engagement announcement and the grand romantic finale doesn’t come until later.

The last scene is really great in that it commits fully to the romance of the moment, but doesn’t lose sight of the comedy. Bridget’s avoiding kisses so she can escape and change into skimpy underwear is hilarious. Leading, of course, to the final “misunderstanding” where Mark spots her journal and leaves suddenly. My only quibble with this final scene is Mark’s last line after Bridget comments that nice guys don’t kiss like that. His line is “Oh yes they fucking do.” And, I don’t know, I’m not a prude about swear words or anything, but this line just feels so off. Colin Firth seems to stumble with the delivery, and it’s unclear what the tone is really supposed to be. I always find it distracting and that it takes away from the climax of romance we’re supposed to be in the midst of. The one line in the entire movie that I think should have been work-shopped some.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Gemma Jones is simply excellent as Bridget’s mother. Whenever she’s on screen she captures the moment and is hilarious. The movie does an interesting thing by essentially combining the characters of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia into one character here. We have the ridiculous mother, desperate to marry off her daughter on one hand. And then the silly, frivolous woman who dashes off with a sleazy man, leaving her devastated family behind. Of course, it all works out better for Bridget’s mum than it did for Lydia, as she gets to return to her loving, and shockingly forgiving, husband in the end and essentially pick her life back up where she left it.

Bridget’s friends are also good for some laughs, particularly her snobby co-worker Perpetua, and Tom, who is always trying to pick up men with his fading fame from a one-hit-wonder song. I also really love the dinner scene where Bridget finds herself surrounded by “smug married couples” and each couple introduces themselves with matching “hi’s.” It’s cringe-worthy and perfectly puts you in Bridget’s corner during the entire thing.

But, by and large, much of the comedy comes from Bridget herself. It’s really hats off to Zellweger for carrying to much of this movie herself. With the wrong casting, so much of this could have gone poorly.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

We’ve seen Gemma Jones and Hugh Grant before in “Sense and Sensibility” [1995]. I think they’re each better cast in their roles here. As I said, Hugh Grant isn’t a favorite of mine, but I think he shines in roles like this where he can lean into some of the sleaze. And Gemma Jones, while fine as Mrs. Dashwood, is much better when she’s allowed to spread her wings with the comedy.

Zellweger committed fully to the part and the accent. She used it throughout the entire shooting of the film, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. Apparently, Hugh Grant didn’t hear her real accent until a party after the movie was finished. She pulled it off so well that she was able to pass as a British citizen while studying for her role and working at a publishing industry for a month.

She also gained 25 lbs for the movie. I had heard this fact several times before as some  big deal of commitment to the part. But to my mind, it just adds to the weirdness of 135 lbs being treated as some huge weight that someone would struggle against. If anything, this fact just makes me think that Zellweger was unhealthily skinny before hand if she came in at 110. The book has a nice bit where Bridget gets to her dream weight, and everyone around her comments that she looks sick and looked better before. It was a nice balance to all the concern about weight throughout the rest of the book. The movie, without this bit, does struggle in this area, though luckily it doesn’t focus on it too much.

It’s ironic that the character who plays Jude, Shirley Henderson, is introduced in this movie as crying in a bathroom. She went on to play Moaning Myrtle in “Harry Potter,” a ghost who haunts a bathroom, often crying and flooding it. Also, it’s weird that she plays a teenager in that film which came out a year after this one and a 30-something here.

We will see Embeth Davidtz, who plays Natasha, again in “Mansfield Park” [1999] where she appears as Miss. Crawford.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This scene, with Bridget drinking alone and singing “All by myself,” has to be one of my favorite title card sequences ever.

And this is just a favorite reaction gif of mine in general:

In two weeks, I’ll review the YouTube adaptation, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

Serena’s Review: “My Lady Jane”

22840421Book: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book description: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In “My Lady Jane,” coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of “The Princess Bride,” featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Review: I listed this book as one of my picks for June Highlights without any real knowledge of what it would be. A comedy of the definitely-tragic life of Lady Jane Grey? Something about a horse? But the comparison to “The Princess Bride” is what truly sold me on it, and I immediately requested it from the library. And it was a blast!

King Edward is dying. Or so he’s been told. And in a brilliant scheme of his (not) own making, he decides to line up his best friend and cousin Lady Jane Grey to inherit the throne behind him. But to do so, she should really be married so the male heirs can take over eventually, because women are questionable leaders, Edward has to believe. And so enters Lord Gifford, or “G” who has a bit of a “horse” problem. That is, he becomes a horse from dawn to dusk every day. So now, poor Jane must mourn Edward (or does she?), become queen, and deal with a husband who prefers apples. It’s all quite lovely.

I am generally hit-and-miss on the concept of duel protagonists, even more skeptical of three. But this book pulls it off! We have chapters from Edward, G, and, of course, Jane, to tell us their story. Naturally, it would be easy for Edward’s chapters to fall to the wayside in a story that is largely about Jane’s queenship and her burgeoning relationship with G, her husband/horse. But I was surprised to find myself truly enjoying Edwards contributions and his journey to self-awareness. Yes, Edward, maybe women can rule…maybe, your half-sister, even, Ness (also known as Elizabeth…)?

G and Jane, however, were the true heart of the story and I enjoyed them both immensely. Jane loves books, so there was a natural kinship between us there.

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At one point, in the early more rocky stages of their relationship, Jane builds a wall of books between herself and G in the carriage because there was not enough room in the trunks. This is my kind of girl. G, too, had a great voice and sense of humor. His perspective from his “horse self” was hilarious.

Really, the humor is what made this book. The dialogue was witty, and the authors fully embraced the ridiculousness of their concept, and it as almost impossible to not feel their own laughter emanating from the pages.

And yes, the comparisons to “The Princess Bride” were on point. The use of a narrator inserting thoughts and opinions throughout the story was used in the same way, and there definite nods to the story itself. In one scene, G refers to a large bear by some long acronym and proclaimed he didn’t believe it existed (ala “ROUSs? I don’t believe they exist!”) However, while I enjoyed these nods and the style in general, there were points where I felt like it was leaning too heavily on elements from that story. A nod here and there, sure, but there were a few too many, especially with the parenthetical narration bits that struck a bit too closely to “The Princess Bride.” It’s one thing to follow a format, it’s another to almost copy an idea. Parts of this made me uncomfortable.

I also really liked the twisting of history. Instead of the actual struggle between Catholics and Protestants that was going on during this time period (and lead to the conflict in rulers with Mary and Elizabeth fighting for different national religions, essentially), this book changes it to a conflict between the Verities (people who stay people and believe this is the RIGHT way to be) and the Ethians (those who can turn into nifty creatures like horses/dogs/etc). It was fun seeing what was actually a very serious conflict be turned into such a creative fantasy adventure.

Which speaks to tone over all. Like I said, this is definitely a comedy story. If you’re looking for anything regarding a serious, historical book, this is not for you. The story/characters/narrator consistently make fun of elements of the time period (see: sexism regarding women rulers), and the dialogue is full of anachronisms. But, if you’re in the mood for a quirky, fun, romantic comedy, this book is definitely for you!

Rating 8: Super fun story, with three great leads. If you liked “The Princess Bride,” you’ll like this. But was also a bit too close to this original, at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Lady Jane” is a very new book, so it’s not on many lists. Obviously, if you liked this and haven’t read “The Princess Bride,” go do that now! And another great comedy fantasy series I love is called the “Hero” series by Moira J. Moore and starts with “Resenting the Hero.”

Find “My Lady Jane” at your library using WorldCat!