Hallmark's Love & Jane: Ship It Or Skip It

Hallmark's latest film for its Loveuary event, "Love & Jane," is flawed, but there are a lot of good things about it that fans will enjoy. Alison Sweeney stars as Lilly, a woman trying to navigate her career at an advertising firm and her love life after a breakup. She's a Jane Austen enthusiast, and when she wishes the author could guide her, Austen's spirit appears, adding magic and comical moments to the story. Lilly loves the romance portrayed in the author's novels and runs a Jane Austen Society book club that meets regularly at a local pub.

While heading to the meeting, she realizes she forgot her book and quickly slips into a bookstore called Scribblers. Before she can purchase the one she needs, the surly clerk snatches it from her hand, stating that online buyers have precedence over in-store customers. The bar owner, Mr. Whitcomb (John Prowse), is very pleased with the club, telling Lilly that "having you Jane lovers around elevates the place." Sadly, he's going to close the place down soon, and she'll have to relocate the club.

Meanwhile, Lilly learns that their new client at work is aloof billionaire Trevor Fitzsimmons (Benjamin Ayres), who's starting up a new website and wants to cross-promote it with Scribblers. She recognizes him as the bookstore clerk, and while you'd think they'd have chemistry right off the bat, it actually takes almost an hour before sparks start to fly between them.

Austen's spirit guides Lilly

In "Love & Jane," a coworker tells Lilly that another coworker is into her, but after her fresh breakup, Lilly's not ready to start dating again and isn't attracted to him. Little do we suspect her friend secretly has feelings for the guy. While at first thinking the appearance of Jane Austen was a dream, when the legendary author appears again, Lilly questions her sanity. Austen later tells her, "It is evident from my observation that you are completely lacking in the skills required to make your way in the world." She teaches Lilly about proper manners, which she states is "what keeps society together," and how to dance Victorian-style.

Eventually, Lilly tells her work friend that Jane has been appearing to her and doling out life advice, which the friend takes in stride. Meanwhile, Trevor comes across as above everyone else but eventually loses his haughty demeanor. When we see him smile at Lilly, the chemistry finally kicks in, and we actually start to like him.

Through Austen's guidance, Lilly is able to play matchmaker with her coworkers and rethink her approach to her own love life. Austen has some funny fish-out-of-water moments in the modern world, and a running gag about cattle has a nice payoff near the end of the film.

The pros outweigh the cons

What doesn't work in "Love & Jane" is its slow pace and the lack of chemistry between the two leads until they break down the walls between them. Also, Benjamin Ayres sports a pile of curly hair on top of his head akin to a butter sculpture. If you don't recognize him, we saw him briefly in Hallmark's "Paging Mr. Darcy" as the hilarious "golf bro."

What does work is the nice directing with some creative cinematography and beautiful establishing shots of Boston. Whenever Jane Austen disappears, the effect is so subtle that you'd miss it if you weren't paying attention. Alison Sweeney gives her always solid, charming performance and truly is the highlight of the film. 

There's a hilarious moment when Lilly shows Jane an Austen movie on her computer, and Mr Darcy looks like he's being played by Trevor. Jane Austen references abound, and Lilly has an informative line for fans unfamiliar with the author's work: "'Clueless' is an underappreciated Austen adaptation." The whole brick-and-mortar vs internet commerce subplot could easily serve as a metaphor for the tenuous relationship between Lilly and Trevor throughout. Trevor makes a poignant statement when he says, "I guess that's the thing about being a reader. You kinda get lost in the imaginary life, and it helps you discover what you love about the real world." While far from perfect, Jane Austen enthusiasts and Alison Sweeney completists will enjoy "Love & Jane." We say ship it!