The Jane Austen Book Club is a movie ready-made for a cinema subdivision of Oprah's Book Club. Just consider the potential: This contemporary comedy-drama of five women and a man analyzing one Austen novel each month would foment discussion of six Austen books and Karen Joy Fowler's witty 2004 novel (also called The Jane Austen Book Club), along with such standby talk-show topics as infidelity and female friendship.
An Oprah Winfrey-brand phenomenon would have to be more provocative than the lulling movie writer-director Robin Swicord has made from Fowler's peppy, humorous pastiche. In this version, the wisdom men and women glean from Austen's writing inspires them all-too-directly either to discard unsuitable mates or try harder to make things work with the ones they have or used to have. It's like a prolonged square dance with an unimaginative caller. They don't so much swing their partners as rattle them back to their senses.
The Jane Austen Book Club (Sony Pictures Classics) Starring Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Hugh Dancy. Directed by Robin Swicord. Rated PG. Time 106 minutes.
Watch a preview of The Jane Austen Book Club at baltimoresun.com/austen