Here's a recipe for a chick flick classic. Take a book called The Jane Austen Book Club, adapt it and cast a half-dozen of the most familiar faces from TV and film in the roles, then bring it to a slow boil at the Toronto International Film Fest. In a series of coffee-klatch-like round tables, some of the film's stars (including men -- don't worry) joked about Austen's enduring popularity.
Favourite Jane Austen book/how'd you prepare?
Amy Brenneman: Yeah, you'd think we'd prepare, wouldn't you? My favourite is Howards End (laughs). Probably Sense And Sensibility.
Jimmy Smits: I revisited Emma, because I read it in university. And then Persuasion because I reference it in the movie.
Kathy Baker: I'd read three of them before, and I reread Pride And Prejudice because my book club was reading it.
Do you think it's unfair that this is going to be labelled a chick flick? Many of the guys who saw the film liked it, too.
Brenneman: Don't get me going. There are TV networks for women, TV networks for black people, TV networks for Latinos. C'mon, I was in a hugely macho Michael Mann movie - I appreciate marketing and I know things need taglines. But I feel our whole job as artists is to break open stereotypes and actually depict humanity.
Smits: Also, chicks are not going to go see this movie alone.
Brenneman: Yeah, guys might get some action after.
How does it feel being part of an ensemble?
Brenneman: That's where I'm at right now. Five or 10 years ago, I really wanted to strut my stuff and show what I could do. I wanted to grab the biggest ring possible. Now I feel, in my life and work, it's about community and sharing the spotlight. It's sort of shifted.
Maggie, did you get a lot of advice from your much more experienced female colleagues?
Maggie Grace: Yes, especially of a sexual nature. Especially from Amy Brenneman - not the sort of wisdom you'd expect from a woman who went to Harvard. It was great to have mentors. They're happy, functional, not crazy, and successful at the same time. It taught me that it is possible.
Why is Jane Austen so relevant now?
Baker: Does anyone ever ask that about Shakespeare? I don't know. Maybe it's because she only wrote six great books. What if she'd written 26? Would we be reading all 26?
Grace: For me, it's the simplicity of this world. I sometimes yearn for that village life. I'm trying to get it in Los Angeles - I'm in this community where people walk and have dogs and you actually run into people and say hello. That is earth-shattering, after living in a city with no heart, where everyone's in their cars.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Brenneman on Pride And Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennett:
Brenneman on why we won't be seeing a Judging Amy DVD box set soon:
Baker and Grace on age and female actors:
THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB(Robin Swicord) Rating: NNN
Amidst the craziness of contemporary life, five SoCal women and a token man read and discuss the six novels of Jane Austen in this not-as-sucky-as-it-sounds adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's chick lit novel.
First-time feature director Swicord feels genuine affection for her characters, especially the high school French teacher stuck in a lonely marriage (Emily Blunt) who becomes obsessed with a student (Kevin Zegers).
The dialogue feels fresh and appropriate to each character - Swicord, best known for adapting prestige books for the screen (Memoirs Of A Geisha, Little Women), has understandably written some of the roles younger than they are in the novel. The six leads may be attractive, white and free of money problems, but the film has lots of real humour and insight into how art intersects with life, and vice versa.
Look for the spoon-and-ice-cream line - it's delicious.