Back in 2005, I figured I knew all things Jane Austen. A year out from graduating with a major in English, I spent the best semester ever sitting in a class that was dedicated to her writings. Every paper graded was an A. My professor lit up every time I added something to the discussion. I’m pretty sure my love for all things Austen is also what helped me pass my basic HTML class (because I kept oversleeping and never really learned the coding part) as that professor was also an Austenite. Of course, I later learned that I was not in fact the number one Austen fan, and still had much to learn about my beloved author.
But it doesn’t stop me from being somewhat protective over her work – especially when it’s a modernized adaptation (with the exception of Clueless – “as if”). For me, part of what makes Jane Austen’s writing so engaging is the commentary within her specific social context. So I admit I approached Modern Persuasion starring Alicia Witt, Bebe Neuwirth, Shane McRae, and Mark Moses with a mild bit of apprehension. I didn’t need it.
Set in the fast-paced New York world of Advertising and Public Relations, executive Wren Cosgrove (played by Alicia Witt) is cool, collected, and happy in her life. She loves her work and her bosses Grayson and Maxine (Mark Moses and Jenn Harris), her coworkers, and her loving but overprotective Aunt Vanessa (Bebe Neuwirth). Plus, her cat Wentworth (subtle nod to the source material). So, when ex-boyfriend and potential client Owen Jasper (Shane McRae) walks into her office, her world is turned upside down. What follows is a series of amusing and enjoyable moments of awkwardness – of the adorable kind – as Wren reconciles what she lost with what she hopes is still possible.
From their initial reconnection to subtle glances and misunderstandings to the final moment of “is it too late?,” Modern Persuasion is charming and vibrant. And I mean that literally – the colors in this film are bold and exciting and exactly what I need to close out this dark year. The personalities of the cast are just as bright, and they argue, flirt, create, and grow with one another effortlessly. The storyline stays true to the intent of the original but absolutely feels relatable. Our choices today can be just as influenced by circumstances, future goals, overbearing but well-meaning relatives, and our own fears as they were when Austen first wrote of Anne and Captain Wentworth. Lost loves and the “what-ifs” that haunt our memories aren’t bound by time. And neither is hope.
I don’t know about you, but if there is one lesson I’m taking with me into 2021 it’s that staying connected needs to be intentional. From texting old friends to mailing Christmas cards for the first time in 12 years, I don’t want to leave my relationships to chance. Whether it is the person sitting next to me or someone who is only as close as my thoughts, I’m keeping Alicia Witt’s words close to my heart and will “remember in this crazy year of disconnection and uncertainty, we still have each other.”
Modern Persuasion is now available digitally and on demand.
To hear our conversation with Alicia Witt, click here.