With Austenland, Jerusha Hess finds the romantic comedy in Jane Austen

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Photo by Giles Keyte, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Jennifer Coolidge, Keri Russell, and Georgia King in 'Austenland.'

After meeting Shannon Hale at a dinner and reading Hale's book, Austenland, in one night, Jerusha Hess immediately decided the story of a searching for Regency-era love at a Jane Austen-themed resort would make a great movie.

"It was so cinematic and funny, and I loved the idea of this fangirl," said Hess, who co-wrote the more testicular screenplays for "Gentlemen Broncos," "Nacho Libre" and "Napolean Dynamite." "I wrote it with the idea of Austen nonreaders in mind. It read almost like a script."

Hess was delighted with the cast of the movie, including Keri Russell of "Felicity" fame, who stars as Jane Hayes, a superfan of Jane Austen's six novels, who blows her life savings on the trip to a resort catering to Austen-crazed women.

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Photo by Giles Keyte, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Keri Russell as Jane Hayes

"Keri Russell is so doll-like and innocent seeming," Hess said. "She's perfect for this earnest character who is pretty dorky."

Hess, a fan of the TV show "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," was thrilled to cast Jane Seymour (who played Dr Quinn, along with many other TV and movie roles), her friend Bret McKenzie, who's one half of the comedy musical duo, The Flight of the Concords, and comedienne Jennifer Coolidge of "American Pie" and "Best in Show," among others.

"We just let her run wild," Hess said about Coolidge. "About 50 percent of the lines she came up with. There are hours of footage we couldn't use because we couldn't hear the lines because people were laughing so hard."

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Photo by Giles Keyte, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Bret McKenzieand Keri Russell

Hess has always loved the author of Pride and Prejudice.

"She was really light for her time, but she comments on society and pokes fun at the upper class," she said. "They're essentially fairy tales with great, strong heroines."

But the movie is not just for Jane Austen fans, Hess says.

"It's for people who think Jane Austen fans are funny," she said. "It's sort of a com-rom - heavy on the comedy."

Hess says she's glad to see more comedies made by women, such as "Bridesmaids," which she says she loved, wishing she had written it.

"Women make up half the world," she said. "There should be options for us other than superhero movies in the summer."

"Austenland" is playing at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco, Regency Cinemas Six in San Rafael, Shattuck in Berkeley, Century 16 in Pleasant Hill, Santana Row in San Jose, and Camera 7 in San Jose.

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