After playing two punishingly thankless roles - the less interesting wife in Brokeback Mountain and the foil for Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada - I imagine that Becoming Jane was meant to be a sort of coming-out party for Anne Hathaway, and insofar as she gets a major role without upstaging co-stars, I suppose that's exactly what it is.

Now, I know that the right thing to do is praise Miss Hathaway in all her button cuteness and good cheer and uncanny resemblance to a real-life Disney heroine (as indeed I did once upon a time: "one of the rare actresses who comes across as friendly and appealing without having to work for it" I said, and for that movie, it was true). Instead, I'm going to take a slightly different approach, and suggest that the Brooklyn-born 24-year-old is not nearly as incongruous in the role of a young woman of modest family in England during the Napoleonic Wars as you might have expected her to be, given that the scale for Americans with bad British accents bottoms out somewhere around Kevin Costner. But she still kind of sucks, and the movie she's in kind of sucks, too.

Here are the facts: Jane Austen, author of the beloved Pride and Prejudice, and five other books that nobody ever really talks about so they clearly don't matter even though two of them are arguably better, began writing at a young age, refused to publish until an advanced age, never married and apparently never came close. In the summer of 1796, Austen enjoyed a flirtation with Thomas Langlois Lefroy, an Irish law student, and when she began her second long work of fiction, she based the annoyingly famous Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in part upon this flirtation.

Taking its cue from this brief summer romance, Becoming Jane posits that Austen's life in that year was a virtual carbon copy of the events of Pride and Prejudice; or rather, a carbon copy of Pride & Prejudice, the 2005 film whose influence couldn't be more oppressive here if the filmmakers had simply taken that Keira Knightley vehicle and re-dubbed it, What's Up, Tiger Lily?-style. We have the same fixation on mud, analogous scenes filmed in essentially identical ways (the dance sequences are particularly egregious examples of this). Or, simply, this.

Of course, it's a slightly grubbier Pride & Prejudice, with slightly grubbier stars: Julie Walters as Mrs. Austen, James Cromwell as Reverend Austen, Maggie Smith as the "Maggie Smith character" (a sharp-tongued elderly woman who sits imperiously; compare the "Judi Dench character" of the other film, a sharp-tongued elderly woman who paces imperiously). All of these performers are fine - they kind of have to be, it's who they are. At any rate, all of them gratuitously out-act Hathaway, and they sound like real Brits, to boot.

Lefroy is played by James McAvoy, who spent last weekend shooting a movie roughly 4 blocks from my apartment, at exactly the same time that I was a forty minute train-ride away watching Becoming Jane. I felt you should all have a chance to enjoy that irony the way I did. Anyway, McAvoy is pretty much awesome at this point and surely [title of next film] is going to make him a star. Meanwhile, he has to be the poor man's Mr. Darcy, against an actress too charming to avoid stealing his spotlight, but not nearly comfortable enough in her character to give him anything interesting to work from.

I think the worst thing of all - worse than the rip-off factor, worse than Hathaway's empty eyes, worse than the mirthless television-quality direction that the television veteran Julian Jarrold brings to bear on the proceedings - is that Becoming Jane continues the trend of people who claim to love Pride and Prejudice failing entirely to understand what it's about. Austen was a satirist, not a romantic, and her books had an ironic approach to "let's all fall in love and get married!" that current pop culture totally ignores. But I want to keep that knife sharp for right now - I might need it later. Instead, let me just sum up: Jane Austen did not live the life of Elizabeth Bennett, but even if she had, there was no reason to be this bland in presenting it.