The Fleabag-Ification Of Jane Austen

Dear reader, they have turned “Persuasion” into a cringe comedy.

It’s one thing to reinterpret Austen for modern audiences — lord knows we have no shortage of great revisionist Austen adaptations — but it’s another to completely miss the point of the source material. Where Austen’s “Persuasion” was a somber, melancholic story that’s less about the heart-fluttering romance than it is about a woman’s reassertion of her self-worth, Cracknell’s “Persuasion,” which is written by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, is a quirky rom-com that is loaded with scenes of Dakota Johnson chugging giant glasses of wine and characters spouting lines like, “It’s often said if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.”

This “Persuasion” confuses self-reflective for self-pitying, casting its heroine as a sadsack singleton who claims to the camera in fourth-wall-breaking monologues that she’s “single and thriving” before the film smash cuts to her crying in the bathtub. “Persuasion” even veers into slapstick at some point, with Anne falling flat on her face after hearing a particularly withering criticism, or awkwardly stumbling around a dinner table so as to avoid sitting next to her former flame. This isn’t the Anne who has resigned herself to being beaten down by life, this is Anne in the Bridget Jones mold, with Johnson spending much of the film carrying around an alarming number of wine bottles while she bemoans that Wentworth doesn’t still love her.

The “Fleabag” comparisons will inevitably be made, but it’s clear that Bass and Winslow don’t have the same skill as Phoebe Waller-Bridge when it comes to balancing sharp social observations, intimate character writing, and hysterical comedy. The fourth-wall-breaking style does feel like a good decision on paper for such an internal character as Anne Elliot, but Johnson plays the sequences with such a winking smugness that it feels like “Persuasion” is inclined to be a farce rather than a romance. Which would be all fine and good — if it were done well.

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