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Bent on Marriage: Kam Heskin plays a Mormon version of Elizabeth in 'Pride and Prejudice.'

Austen Powers

This updated version of 'Pride and Prejudice' unfolds in Mormon country

By Richard von Busack

IT'S BEEN SAID that "sooner will the cinderblock be streamlined than the Mormon will be mainstreamed," but the effort continues, as the indie film Pride and Prejudice demonstrates. The film's alternate title--Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy--indicates its Utah roots. It is Jane Austen's tale, otherwise. Elizabeth (Kam Heskin), a headstrong but marriageable girl with a literary bent, is attracted to a mean-on-the-outside cad who turns out to have a tender heart underneath his tough hide. Despite the other transpositions, Darcy is played by an Englishman, the modestly handsome Orlando Seale. Two hundred years after the revolution, we still find English arrogance more enchanting than the Yankee variety. Considering the Americanization of this story, one wonders if they couldn't have found a domestic analogy for Darcy's arrogance--an uppity person from Connecticut, maybe?

As in Austen's novel, director Andrew Black includes the kind of blowhard man who believes that a woman's "no" is just an annoying detour on the road to "yes": Mr. Collins, whose patronizing and unwanted marriage proposal to Austen's Elizabeth has been called one of the high points of comic writing in the English language. In this version, Mr. Collins is Brother Collins (Hubbel Palmer), dressed in geeky white shirt and horn rims. He's just back from his two-year mission and squarely ready to find a mother for his children; he tries to woo Elizabeth by misquoting the Bible, "A woman should never hide her bushels."

On some level, this works, with Austen's England of the Regency mimicking another conservative society. The novel takes care of itself no matter how it's filmed. This Pride and Prejudice, shot in Provo and Salt Lake City, with a finale at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas, shows modestly cool surfaces: brightly colored clothes, rock music, ski trips, walks through the city at night. There are even orgies of Coca-Cola, loaded with church-forbidden caffeine. The overstressed joke about the women porking out on ice cream during their periods shows a man's hand, though. Another updating--insurance against a too-white movie?--is that Jane (Lucila Solá) is portrayed as an Argentinian. Solá plays the character as if she were Charro's daughter; childlike, energetic, on fire with Latin sensuality and so forth.

Black and his writers quote from Austen in intertitles ("How ashamed I should be of not being married before 3 and 20"). Yet more has changed than has stayed the same, as in the husband acquiring strategies mocked here: a "The Rules"-like book called "The Pink Bible" that is a bestseller among Elizabeth's ditzy, man-hunting friends. When Elizabeth uses the word "eligible" to describe herself, the updating seams painfully quaint. This version of Pride and Prejudice is post-Ally McBeal. It's punctuated with dream-sequence slapstick, there are no star performances and the script blunts Austen's needles--one girl carries a pug dog called "Austen," incidentally.

Pride and Prejudice (PG; 104 min.), directed by Andrew Black, written by Black, Jason Faller and Katherine Swigart, based on the novel by Jane Austen, photographed by Travis Cline and starring Kam Heskin and Orlando Seale, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the April 28-May 4, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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