I can’t comment on whether Modern Persuasion is an adequate adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion because, as someone who is shamelessly not a reader, I’m unfamiliar with the original literature. However, just as I did earlier this year with Emma, I can give the perspective of a viewer who is going into the movie cold, looking for something sweet to curl up with. Even though it starts out strong, I’m afraid Modern Persuasion just doesn’t cut it.
The filmmakers, Alex Appel and Jonathan Lisecki, fooled me into thinking they were aware of the rom-com formula and the genre’s bad habits. Instead of giving audiences a slew of stereotypes, the characters were actually very smart and funny. Even though the movie takes place in a very generic workroom setting with people running around spouting off jargon about upcoming projects and big accounts, screenwriters Lisecki and Barbara Radecki displayed a very sharp ear for realistic behaviour and humorous banter that translated well through the direction and performances. The film also sports a strong female presence, with most of the leading roles headlined by confident and fierce women who command the screen. Modern Persuasion is a breath of fresh air, until the film’s romantic elements railroad the movie.
Love can make people do and say unpredictable things. In the case of Modern Persuasion, romantic tension can turn your brain into mush and devolve formally strong people into clumsy babblers. It was really disheartening to watch men and women characters alike downgrade themselves for the attention of the opposite sex. Especially when the plot of Modern Persuasion hinges on its otherwise intelligent leads avoiding a simple conversation with their colleagues about their romantic history. Scene after scene, logic disappears into the vapour. And when the story moves away from the office to a vacation spot in the Hamptons, Modern Persuasion completely sells itself out for glossy rom-com conventions, tropes, and eye rolls.
Perhaps Jane Austen enthusiasts will draw more from the movie. But as a standalone film, Modern Persuasion doesn’t convince outsiders to invest their interest.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie