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'Becoming Jane'

A Shakespeare in Love for the Jane Austen set, this romantic charmer invents biographical details for the 18th-century author, suggesting that she drew her plots from her own experience. Anne Hathaway's Jane must choose between a rich but dull land baron, who's asked for her hand, and a dashing but penniless lawyer who hasn't.

If you're like me, and you can't keep Austen's stories straight — Sense and Prejudice? Pride and Sensibility? And which one has Darcy, again? — this tale, which mixes bits and pieces of all her novels, will come as a relief.

The folks surrounding Jane — a wealthy duchess (Maggie Smith), flibbertigibbet mom (Julie Walters), parson dad (James Cromwell), sweet sis (Anna Maxwell Martin) — were all real figures in Austen's life, and director Julian Jarrold keeps their antics lively.

The script amounts only to cut-rate Austen, but with sparkling performances and a Merchant Ivory-pretty design scheme, it's a pleasant-enough summer romp — the cinematic equivalent of a good read for the beach.

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Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.