Modern Persuasion review – Austen in Manhattan is a load of old bonnets | Film

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Do we need a defensive ring of steel petticoats erected around Jane Austen’s novels – something, anything to stop them being updated into perky formulaic romcoms like this? Modern Persuasion is, to state the obvious, a modern version of Austen’s last (and arguably best) novel Persuasion: the story of Anne Elliot, who at 27 – still a mere slip of a girl – is staring down the barrel of spinsterdom. Eight years earlier she made the terrible mistake of turning down an offer of marriage from a penniless naval officer. The film-makers have meticulously transferred the book’s characters and plotting – and, to be fair, some of its warmth – to modern-day New York. But lost in adaptation is any trace of Austen’s wit and razor-sharp satire.

That said, Alicia Witt brings several shreds of dignity to the role of single gal Wren Cosgrove, a highly-flying PR exec living in New York with her cat. The boyfriend she never got over is her college ex Owen (Shane McRae, performing with the charisma of a wardrobe). After graduation, Wren refused to move to San Francisco with him. Now he’s a tech billionaire; though pointedly not a douchebag since his new project is a charity-giving app.

When the pair accidentally meet up again – after he hires her firm to do his PR – Owen acts frostily like they’re strangers. Instead he flirts with Wren’s two young assistants (nicely played as irritating yet endearing by Daniella Pineda and Tedra Millan). Here the script misses a trick; it could have mimicked Austen, skewering the social hypocrisy of men marrying younger women while women of the same age are deemed to be mothballed – plus ça change. But instead the film mostly satirises the assistants’ aggressively millennial social media abbreviations – impenetrable to the oldies.

Still, the biggest crime against Austen, and the film’s fundamental flaw, is turning woman-of-substance Anne Elliot into yet another romcom thirtysomething cat lady sighing dreamily at the Manhattan skyline while waiting for Mr Right.

• Modern Persuasion is on digital platforms from 8 February.

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Source: The Guardian
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