The book club is the brainchild of fiftysomething six-time divorcée Bernadette (Kathy Baker), who latches onto the idea when she meets Prudie (Emily Blunt), a prim, married high school French teacher in her mid-20s, at a Jane Austen film festival. Her idea is to have six members discuss all of Austen's six novels, with each member hosting the group once a month. Also inducted into the club are Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), a fortysomething librarian who has recently separated from her philandering lawyer husband Daniel after more than two decades of marriage; Sylvia's 20-something lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace); Jocelyn (Maria Bello), a happily unmarried control freak and breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks who has been Sylvia's friend since childhood; and Grigg (Hugh Dancy), a science fiction fan who's roped into the group by Jocelyn with the hope he and Sylvia will prove to be a compatible match.
As the months pass, each of the members develops characteristics similar to those of Austen's characters and reacts to events in their lives in much the same way their fictional counterparts would. Bernadette is the matriarch figure who longs to see everyone find happiness. Sylvia clings to her belief in steadfast love and devotion and eventually reconciles with Daniel. Jocelyn denies her own feelings for Grigg while playing matchmaker for him and Sylvia. Prudie, encumbered with her inattentive husband Dean and a free-spirited, pot-smoking, aging hippie mother, a product of the 1960s counterculture, finds herself desperately trying not to succumb to her feelings for her seductive student Trey. Allegra, who tends to meet her lovers while engaging in death-defying activities, feels betrayed when she discovers her current partner, aspiring writer Corinne, has used Allegra's life as the basis for her short stories. Grigg is attracted to Jocelyn and mystified by her seeming lack of interest in him, marked by her failure to read the Ursula K. Le Guin novels he has hoped will catch her fancy. He also serves as the comedic foil to Jocelyn's and Prudie's very serious takes on the books.
The last meeting is held at the beach. Daniel wants to join the book club and is let in by Sylvia. Grigg brings his elder sister Cat Harris, who persuades Jocelyn to take a chance on Grigg because he loves her. Prudie initially wants to meet Trey but decides against it after putting herself in Jane Austen's shoes and instead goes home to Dean and makes him read Persuasion, which helps them find the love they once had. Daniel leaves a letter for Sylvia at her doorstep; upon reading it, she accepts Daniel back.
Jocelyn finally reads the books Grigg gave to her and is surprised to find that she loves them and can't put them down. She drives over to Grigg's house but realises it's still very early and dozes off in her car. When Grigg comes out of his house, he sees Jocelyn's car and knocks on her window. Jocelyn finally gives in to her feelings and they both passionately kiss.
One year later, the book club meets at Sylvia's library charity dinner. Grigg and Jocelyn are together; Sylvia and Daniel have reconciled; Prudie is pregnant; and Bernadette has remarried for the seventh time.Maria Bello as Jocelyn
Emily Blunt as Prudie
Kathy Baker as Bernadette
Hugh Dancy as Grigg
Amy Brenneman as Sylvia
Maggie Grace as Allegra
Jimmy Smits as Daniel
Marc Blucas as Dean
Lynn Redgrave as Mama Sky
Kevin Zegers as Trey
Nancy Travis as Cat Harris
Parisa Fitz-Henley as Corinne
Gwendoline Yeo as Dr. Samantha Yep
Myndy Crist as Lynne
In The Book Club Deconstructed, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, screenwriter/director Robin Swicord explains how each of the six book club members is based on a character in one of Austen's novels. Bernadette represents Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, Sylvia is patterned after Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, Jocelyn reflects the title character in Emma, Prudie is similar to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Allegra is most like Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, and Grigg represents all of Austen's misunderstood male characters.
Although the film is set in Sacramento, it was shot in Southern California. Filming locations included Encino, Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Angeles, North Hollywood, Northridge, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, and Westlake Village.
The soundtrack includes "New Shoes" by Paolo Nutini, "You're All I Have" by Snow Patrol, "Save Me" by Aimee Mann, "So Sorry" by Feist, and "Getting Some Fun Out of Life" by Madeleine Peyroux.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before going into limited release in the US. It opened on 25 screens on September 21, 2007 and earned $148,549 on its opening weekend. It went into wide release on October 5, expanding to 1,232 screens and earning an additional $1,343,596 that weekend. It eventually grossed $3,575,227 in the US and $3,542,527 in international markets for a worldwide box office of $7,163,566.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 65% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 115 reviews, while on Metacritic, the film has an average score of 61 out of 100, based on 28 reviews.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times said the film "is such a well-acted, literate adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's 2004 best seller that your impulse is to forgive it for being the formulaic, feel-good chick flick that it is ... Like the other movies and television projects in a Jane Austen boom that continues to gather momentum, it is an entertaining, carefully assembled piece of clockwork that imposes order on ever more complicated gender warfare."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a celebration of reading" and added, "oddly enough that works ... I settled down with this movie as with a comfortable book. I expected no earth-shaking revelations and got none, and everything turned out about right, in a clockwork ending that reminded me of the precision the Victorians always used to tidy up their loose ends."
Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "enjoyable if fairly predictable ... It's all a tad too neatly packaged, like a brand new set of Austen with the bindings unbroken. Still, a lively ensemble cast works hard ... Swicord's gift as a screenwriter is that her catch-up summaries avoid sounding pedantic or like CliffsNotes. She's less assured as a director. Her pacing is off, with some scenes going on longer than they need to and others whizzing by so fast you miss the nuances. Relationships aren't always as clear as they should be. Still, Austen devotees are sure to lap up the central premise that her notions of love and friendship are as relevant today as ever. And if The Jane Austen Book Club gets people thinking about forming a club of their own, it will have served a more admirable purpose than most movies."
Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times said it was nice to see "a movie so alive to the pleasures of reading and writing and sharing books, especially when the love feels sincere ... in parts, the story feels awkwardly truncated or too shallow to matter. But Swicord has a playful sense of humor and a good ear for dialogue, and the movie pleasantly accomplishes what it set out to accomplish."
Dennis Harvey of Variety stated, "While there are occasional forced notes ... Swicord's direction proves as accomplished as her script at handling an incident-packed story with ease, capturing humor and drama sans cheap laughs or tearjerking."