Comments Off on Persuasion

Persuasion (2022) doesn’t so much adapt Jane Austen’s novel as lift its basic plot as the framework for a synthesis of those two movies which have come to represent Austen’s brand in the popular consciousness: Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001). Produced for Netflix and directed by Carrie Cracknell, Persuasion takes all of its visual cues from Joe Wright and all of its humor from Helen Fielding. The issue being that neither approach suits this particular novel.

Clearly historical accuracy and fidelity to the novel aren’t priorities in Persuasion. Instead, Jane Austen has found herself re-branded for millennial consumers who prize easily digestible sound bites over dramatic nuance. Dakota Johnson’s direct address eliminates all subtext so that every emotional arc is broadcasted loudly and explicitly. Likewise all of Austen’s situational humor and satirization is discarded in favor of this on-the-nose approach.

Johnson isn’t playing Anne Elliot, she’s playing a millennial’s idea of Anne Elliot. This would be fine if, as was the case with Emma (2020), the contemporary dialogue and allusions were rendered in performative attitudes rather than referential dialogue. As it is, Persuasion lands like some pathetic bid for relevance in a world where Austen is some how synonymous with Bridgerton.

Clearly a motivating factor behind these disastrous choices was to create a more feminist version of Austen’s protagonist. Yet, the film opens with Anne “single and thriving” after spending eight years flopped in bed pinning for a man who, thus far, only exists off screen. This colors all of Anne’s interactions to come, essentially reducing her to a boy crazy neurotic with a rabbit. Everything Anne is in the film Persuasion flies in the face of Austen’s proto-feminism.

So why see this bland, boring, and humorless Austen adaptation? To be honest, there’s no reason why one should have to suffer through this film. Time remains better spent scratching the Austen itch by revisiting yet again those adaptations by Ang Lee, Whit Stillman and Amy Heckerling.