By Rob Blackwelder
Remember the name Kam Heskin because if enough people see this effervescent, astute modern adaptation of Jane Austen's romantic 19th-century novel, the actress who plays its doggedly independent heroine is going to be a quickly rising star.
Uniquely pretty but accessibly self-doubting, and popping with charm, sass, smarts and screen presence, she plays Elizabeth, a graduate student and aspiring writer with little interest in her many unsuitable suitors -- much to the dismay of her four boy-crazy, girly-girl roommates. But in spite of herself she's drawn to Darcy (Orlando Seale), a socially blunt, seemingly pompous, English friend-of-a-friend who rubs her the wrong way every time fate throws him in her path -- which happens far more often than she'd like. For example, he's the youngest partner in a publishing house interested in her "Napoleonic techno-fantasy" novel.
Creatively updated and terrifically colorful (kudos to the production and costume designers), this hip, funny -- and curiously enough, Mormon-produced -- "Pride and Prejudice" integrates some of Austen's old-fashioned values by setting the film in Salt Lake City (where even nowadays being virginal and obsessed with getting married at 20 is more the norm) while also making fun of the recent post-feminist backlash by mocking man-trapping advice books like "The Rules."
Director Andrew Black embraces his source material by quoting Austen's text via on-screen chapter stops (the DVD has more optional "Pop-Up Video"-like references to the book), yet he gives the film a thoroughly modern sensibility with imaginative camerawork and a catchy soundtrack. More importantly, he gets sublime light-comedy performances from his unknown cast. The movie's only minor downfalls stem from two badly matched, secondary boyfriend-girlfriend pairings (especially the implication that one meek, awkward roomie will find happiness with a judgmental jackass whom Elizabeth rebuffed).
*** out of ****
(104m | PG)
Unfortunately, the DVD has a larger setback: low-grade video quality laden with digital artifacts -- it looks pretty bad on a high-resolution screen. The lackluster commentary track is skippable, but the raw-footage behind-the-scenes featurettes are informative, enjoyable and well done, except when they occasionally degrade into unfortunate musical montage sequences.
1.85:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced)
DVD RATING: **