Off duty, according to this slickly pleasurable addition to the Jane Austen spin-off canon, our lady of graceful letters was hot stuff at cricket and kissing and had a thing for wicked Wickham, not dull Darcy. Next to nothing is known about what actually passed between Austen and Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy, but that hasn't stopped director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) from working up a head of romantic steam about their encounter. If you're an Austen reader you can have an OK time just playing I Spy Pride and Prejudice, as friends and family in Becoming Jane morph slyly into the novel's characters. But the job at hand is to give Austen (a pretty good, if giggly, Anne Hathaway) the lively romantic life (with the excellent James McAvoy) she probably never had—and why not, since that's what she did herself in her novels? Following a delicious, if improbable, flirtatious exchange in which Lefroy lets Jane know that all she really needs is nookie, Becoming Jane turns into a presentable Harlequin romance, with hurdle after hurdle succeeded by an eleventh-hour turnaround. I'm grateful that the real-life Austen was freed to write her own superior romances, but I wept like a baby when love lay bleeding on the ground.
Hathaway makes for a presentable Harlequin heroine.
Opens at Guild 45 and other theaters, Fri., Aug. 3. Rated PG. 113 minutes.