Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pride & Prejudice ... again

I mentioned recently that I don't do full-length movie reviews anymore, and the reason being is that I can't seem to find the time or motivation to write them these days. After Mrs. Mosley and I finished a DVD several weeks ago, she mentioned how she missed my reviews and wished I'd do one for the film we just watched. I don't know if I'm up to the detail I used to dole out, but here it goes.

My most recent full-length review was last September when I did a compare/contrast of the 1957 and 1997 versions of 12 Angry Men. Oddly enough, this new piece is also a compare and contrast. Our viewing of the 2003 Pride & Prejudice marked the sixth (?!) version of Jane Austen's book we have watched together. The distinction of this one was that it was made by ... wait for it ... Mormons!

The full title of this version is Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy, but the film itself is really not all that religious. Aside from a half dozen mentions of "church", a single scene set during a service, and a brief glimpse of the Book of Mormon, there's very little here that has to do specifically with the Latter Day Saints. Instead, what the filmmakers were trying to do here (besides capitalize on a popular public-domain title) was to take a story set in a less sexually-charged time period and set it among students at BYU who could be said to be as culturally different from the rest of the country as the Regency era would be compared with today.

The whole tone of it is clearly inspired by Clueless, another teen comedy based on a Jane Austen novel. However, instead of the superficial (albeit charming) ditz played by Alicia Silverstone, actress Kam Heskin plays Elizabeth Bennet much like those before her: a headstrong, intelligent and independent woman. Her sisters this time around are changed into roommates. Jane (Lucila Sola) is a young beauty from Argentina, Mary (Rainy Kerwin) is the very picture of a modern wallflower, and Kitty and Lydia (Amber Hamilton and Kelly Stables) are perhaps even more man-hungry than their literary predecessors.

Into their lives comes a daffy hunk named Charles Bingley (Ben Gourley), his snotty sister Caroline (Kara Holden) and his stick-up-his-butt best friend Darcy (Orlando Seale). Elizabeth is not in the least interested in Darcy when they first meet, and already has her romantic hands full with an unwanted suitor named William Collins (Hubbel Palmer) and a long-standing flirtation with Jack Wickam (Henry Maguire). But, as always, the defenses of both Elizabeth and Darcy eventually melt away and they live happily ever after.

Though that seems like enough characters to choke a script, it's a severe dwindling compared to other incarnations of the story. Their choice to jettison Mr. and Mrs. Hurst is a popular and inconsequential one among adaptations, but also absent are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself. Their absence is not as noticeable as it could have been, mainly due to the fact that the class struggle parts of the story are less of an issue here.

And it's at this point where most Austen purists would immediately throw up their hands and yell, "then what's the point?!" in exasperation. To be sure, excising the issue of class in P&P is similar to cutting any references to the Force and Jedi's in Star Wars. What remains in this film is the general structure of the story, which does work as a daffy romantic comedy (There are several references in the film to parts of the novel that were taken out, one of which is a posh restaurant called "Rosings"). Again, Austen fans may be horrified, but those with open minds will like it fine.

The movie is not without its faults. Chief among these is the use of too many musical montages with pop songs that were no doubt done by local Mormon bands. Also, the editing is a little bit off at times with some takes running five to ten seconds too long. Finally, Jared Harris, director of Napoleon Dynamite and fellow Mormon, does an extended cameo and ... well ... he better leave the camera mugging to Jon Heder from now on.

And to those who would turn up their nose at this noble effort and decry it as the worst P&P adaptation ever made, I would point you to the 1940 Hollywood version. Hell, even Laurence Olivier could barely salvage that film.

I've done a full-length treatment of the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice previously here at Acrentropy and gave it 10 out of 10. I stand by that rating as it continues to be the gold standard of filmed Jane Austen, P&P or otherwise. However, allow me to fill in my ratings for the other five while I'm on the subject in case your interested.

Pride and Prejudice (1940) - 6 out of 10

Pride and Prejudice (1980) - 7 out of 10

Pride and Prejudice (2003) - 7 out of 10

Bride and Prejudice (2004) - 8 out of 10

Pride and Prejudice (2005) - 9 out of 10

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