Mr. Malcolm’s List Movie Review

Warning: minor spoilers.

Jane Austen, is if nothing else the Queen of the modern romantic comedy. Her tales of love, loss, growth, and sometimes forced humility has entertained fans for over 200 years.

The new movie, Mr. Malcolm’s List (based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Allain), was released in movie theaters last weekend.

Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton, replacing Gemma Chan) has been publicly spurned and wants revenge. After four seasons on the marriage market, she is still single. The man who spurned her is Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu). Mr. Malcolm is the most sought-after bachelor of the season and has the pick of the litter when it comes to his future wife.

To fend off the masses, he has created a list of qualities that a woman must have if she is to become Mrs. Malcolm. When Julia finds out about the list via her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), she concocts a plan to get back at him. Enlisting her old school friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), she and Lord Cassidy (known to his friend as Cassie) turn Selina into marriage bait. The final result is for Selina to reveal her own list and reject Mr. Malcolm.

But as things tend to go in this genre, the scheme is turned on its head. Jeremy and Selina genuinely fall for one another. Making this love story even more twisted is the addition of Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James). Captain Ossory seems also to be courting Selina, creating a very interesting love triangle.

Though it helps to know something about the regency era and/or Austen’s writing, it is not a requirement to enjoy the film. There is enough to keep the modern fan entertained and laughing.

Like its streaming counterpart, Bridgerton, the main actors all come from different backgrounds. What drew me in and kept me going was the organic romance between Pinto and Dirisu’s characters. These are two people who are perfect for one another, if only they can put down their individual baggage.

My only complaint is that the secondary relationship between Julia and Henry was a little underdeveloped. They are supposed to be the Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley to Selina and Jeremy’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. The problem is that while Austen fully developed both couples, Allain (who wrote both the book and the screenplay) left Julia and Henry hanging.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is presently in theaters.

P.S. The costumes are gorgeous. Wearing any of them (specifically the ones worn by Pinto) would be a dream come true.

Fire Island Movie Review

One of my favorite things about a book like Pride and Prejudice is that the story can be taken out of the Regency era and still be relevant.

The new Hulu movie, Fire Island, is a modern LGBTQ-centric adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel. Noah (Joel Kim Booster, who also served as the screenwriter and executive producer) and Howie (Bowen Yang) are part of a group of five queer friends who spend a week every summer on Fire Island. They stay with Erin (Margaret Cho), who is their unofficial “mother”.

While on the island, Howie has an immediate connection with Charlie (James Scully), a handsome doctor. Noah, on the other hand, gets off on the wrong foot with Charlie’s lawyer friend Will (Conrad Ricamora). Over the course of the week, there is miscommunication, possible romance, and unspoken feelings that will force these men to speak their truths and find the courage to open their hearts to love.

I love this movie. It is funny, charming, entertaining, and adorable while being true to Austen’s original text. It proves that love is love and underneath it all, we are all human beings. These days, representation counts more than ever. This film is a lovely romance, a delight to watch, and the perfect thing to watch during pride month.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Fire Ireland is available for streaming on Hulu.

Hot and Bothered Podcast Review

The thing about a book like Pride and Prejudice is that with every reading, there is something new to discover.

The new season of the podcast Hot and Bothered is about Pride and Prejudice. Specifically, the romantic aspect of the narrative. Subtitled Live from Pemberley, hosts Vanessa Zoltan¬†and Lauren Sandler dive into Jane Austen‘s most famous novel in bites of two chapters per episode. Reading from the text and interviewing experts whose work is related to the novel, they explore how the wider world of the time contributed to the book as a whole.

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A friend recommended this podcast and I am so glad she did. Both Zoltan and Sandler nerd out in a way that I would expect them to, but not so much that it alienates those who have not memorized every tiny detail of the story. I laughed, I learned, and best of all, I smiled.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Hot and Bothered are released every other Friday on various platforms.

Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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The Matzah Ball: A Novel Book Review

The beauty of a romantic comedy is the nearly endless narrative possibilities. The reader/audience can only hope that the writer(s) chooses to color outside of the lines instead of sticking to the same story we have all seen far too often.

The Matzah Ball: A Novel, by Jean Meltzer, was published in September. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is living a double life. To her readers, she is the best-selling writer of Christmas romance novels. In real life, she is the daughter of a respected Rabbi and Doctor who has been living with a debilitating illness for years. When her publisher requests a tale based around Chanukah, Rachel is at a loss.

Enter Jacob Greenberg, her preteen camp crush/nemesis. Returning to New York after his mother’s death, he has a successful career as a party planner. His sole intent is to host the Matzah Ball, a party celebrating Jewish music on the last night of the holiday. He has every intention of returning to Paris the night after the event. What he does not know is that Rachel will come back into his life, needing a way into the festivities.

Their initial meet-cute after nearly twenty years of separation does not go well. But as they spend more time with each other, the hurt and questions from their mutual summer together may turn into something else completely.

I loved this book. It has a perfect Pride and Prejudice undertone with layers of complexity, characters who are thoroughly human, and a holiday chronicle that is utterly charming, My only problem is that I found the character of Mickey, despite his background, to be a little too cookie-cutter. The role of the GBF (gay best friend), is usually nothing more than a stereotype and a sounding board for the female lead. It would have been nice if the author had stepped out of the box a little and not relied on the 2D trope that has been done too many times.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Throwback Thursday: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

The reputation of an on-screen adaptation of a beloved novel is based on the response from the fanbase. It can also be a generational thing. While the original audience may adore that version, future generations may have another opinion.

The first time Pride and Prejudice hit the big screen was in 1940. With a screenplay co-written by Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier played the roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. As in the book, misunderstandings turn into appreciation, which then turns into love.

Anyone who follows this blog (or knows me), knows that I have nothing but adoration and admiration for Jane Austen. Her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, is literary perfection. That being said, I cannot stomach this movie. The problem is twofold. The first is that I am missing Austen’s famous sardonic wit and sarcastic observations that elevate her stories beyond the standard romantic comedy or drama. The second is that the costumes are closer to the Victorian era than the Regency era.

I get that it was made during World War II and movie-goers at the time needed a pick me up. But I wish that the creative team had not taken as many liberties as they did.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero Book Review

There are certain cultural shorthands that we all know, even if we are unaware of the deeper context of the specific reference. When we talk about Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, he is symbolic of a romantic ideal that many aspire to, even if that aspiration is far from reality.

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There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero, by Gabrielle Malcolm, was published last year. In the book, Malcolm examines the origins of Austen‘s most famous leading man, how he has inspired other romantic male leads, and how he has evolved over time. Creating the connection between the characters in her time, Dr. Malcolm explains how later male characters such as Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and even Dracula can trace their origins to Fitzwilliam Darcy. She then looks into how Jane Austen fanfiction has taken the character in new directions and new narratives that her creator could not have even imagined.

I loved this book. The author creates a nice balance of academic authority and adoring fandom without veering too heavily in either direction. It was a fascinating deep dive into this man who has become both a romantic icon and a character type for many a romantic male lead since 1813.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh Book Review

One of the great things about fanfiction is that the writer has the opportunity to shine the spotlight on characters who the reader knows very little about in the original text.

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh by Molly Greeley, was published at the beginning of the year. The novel focuses on Anne de Bourgh. In Pride and Prejudice, Anne is the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the cousin of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Supposedly sick from birth and engaged to her cousin, she fades into the background without the audience truly knowing who she is as a person.

The Anne we are introduced to in Greeley’s novel is not the quiet, retiring character that exists in Austen cannon. She is vivid, intelligent, and curious. But because her imperious mother continues to believe that her daughter is unwell, she is prevented from the experiences that she would have had otherwise. Finally gathering enough nerve to break with Lady Catherine, Anne flees to London, where is she welcomed by her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.

When Anne’s strength has recovered, she begins to see what life can truly offer. But being that she has been locked away from society her entire life, she is unprepared for the not so polite underbelly of the season. This includes love with a person that she could have never expected. Anne must not only contend with forbidden romance, but with her mother, who is still determined to rein her daughter in.

I loved this book. This is how fanfiction is done. The balance between what the reader knows about Anne de Bourgh and where Greeley goes with the character is fantastic. I loved the LGBTQ twist that she adds, elevating what could be a predictable narrative into a story that the reader does not see coming.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Celebrating Jane Austen on the 204 Anniversary of her Passing

Today is the 204 anniversary of the passing of Jane Austen. To say that she was extraordinary in her time and ours is and will always be an understatement. Though her physical remains are long gone, her name and her work will last forever.

Z”L.

The Soulmate Equation Book Review

In theory, dating should be easy. You go out with a number of people until you find someone you are compatible with and let fate take it from there. But in practice, it is not as simple.

Christina Lauren‘s new book, The Soulmate Equation, was published last month. Jessica Davis has been through a lot in her nearly 30 years. Her father is a mystery and her mother abandoned her when she was a child. Raised by her grandparents, Jessica has a seven year old daughter whose father is absent from their lives. Earning her bread as a freelance statistician, she is doing everything she can to stay afloat. To say that dating is the last thing on her to do list an understatement.

When she hears about a dating service that uses DNA to match up their members, Jessica is intrigued. The tests determine that the man who is right for her is Dr. River Pena, the company’s founder. The problem is that River is a first rate asshole. When the company gives her a financial offer she can’t refuse, Jessica agrees to spend some time with him. When the fake relationship begins to turn into a real relationship, she has to re-consider how she sees herself and the people around her.

I loved this book. There is a Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy like dynamic to Jessica and River’s relationship. It could have been stale and predictable. While there are certain narrative beats that are expected, the story is dynamic and exciting. The chemistry between the lead characters is first rate. I don’t read romance novels too often, but this one is pretty good.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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