My name is Obstinate Headstrong Girl, and this is my review of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
I’ve written in the past how I do not understand why a movie or miniseries calls itself Pride and Prejudice then proceeds to veer away from the words, situations, and intrinsic characterizations of P&P. To me that means you based the movie on the novel P&P, you did not recreate it for the screen. No worries here – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries does not claim to be P&P. Welcome to the world of the variation.
As we move into the realm of the adaptation by variation I have only one caveat: please stay true to the foundation laid down by the book. Invent new situations for the Bennets and Bingleys, tell me what comes next for Elizabeth and Darcy, and even conjecture a ‘what if’ scenario that eliminates parts of the storyline from the book. I only ask that you don’t turn stray too far from the original characterizations. I love it when authors take what Jane Austen wrote and build on it rather than merely taking the names of her characters and creating whole new personalities and personages. Take Elizabeth and Darcy on a time-traveling sea voyage to China if you dare; please do not switch Elizabeth’s personality with Caroline Bingley’s nor have her become the female Jack the Ripper of Meryton. Anyway…on to the Diaries.
I’ll come down off my soapbox and once again say I thoroughly enjoyed The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, or LBD. Created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, LBD is an online variation of Pride and Prejudice that features three to five minute ‘webisodes’ offering up vignettes of specific events in the life of Lizzie Bennet, a 24-year-old mass communications grad student who still lives at home with her parents and two sisters. The creative minds behind LBD branched from the YouTube videos to also have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. One can actually get tweets and status updates from their favorite characters, and see their posted pictures. The characters moved from the fictional world of the written page to the surreal world of the internet. Marketing genius.
The P&P story has been brought into the 21st century: Jane is really sweet and underemployed in the fashion industry; Lizzie is a “perpetually single” professional student who is more than ready to graduate and get out; Lydia is a young collegian/barfly/party girl (Ly-dee-yah…whaaaat?!). Most of the major characters are here, although the Bennet family shrank by two daughters. Kitty is now a real kitty, as in cat, and Mary has been demoted to the cousin that Lizzie keeps forgetting. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is referred to, of course constantly by Mr. Collins, as the venture capitalist funding his media firm, Collins and Collins. The secondary characters, such as the Lucases and Gardiners (now a single person in the form of Lizzie’s advisor), are mentioned in passing then promptly forgotten. The principal characters instead are now Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, and Charlotte. These four alternately relate what happened in Lizzie’s life earlier that day or the previous night, or speculate on what will happen later. For storyline continuity, until the other characters make appearances, or when the action takes place off camera, the viewer is treated to Lizzie’s ‘costume theatre,’ which is one of the best ideas of LBD. When Lizzie dons a shawl and huge flowered hat and drawls like the best southern belle at the Kentucky Derby, truly Mrs. Bennet has been brought to life in all her scheming yet flighty glory. “Mah Lizzie is quite the straaange one. All that readin’ and writin’ and studyin’.” Lizzie deems her mother a member of the “2.5 WPF Club,” meaning 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, the subject Lizzie’s mom harps on 24/7. Someone, surely someone must be in want of Lizzie as their wife!
I could further tell you that military man Col. Fitzwilliam is now the hip and awesome-haired Fitz Williams, Mr. Collins the cleric is now Mr. Collins (not Ricky, if you please!) the would-be video game and digital media mogul, and Wickham is an assistant swim coach who threatens to release an oh-so-21st-century sex tape of Lydia as his means of extortion. The Darcy estate in Derbyshire is now a silicon valley skyscraper known as Pemberley Digital. Without further explaining how the storyline of P&P becomes the diaries – there are 100 webisodes, after all – let me just say that it translates well and it works, even if you’re not in the target demographic of 16-26 years of age. The Austen-angst is still there. Lizzie and Darcy still meet poorly and painfully, at a wedding this time, where he utters the disparaging comment that Lizzie is “decent enough” (off camera, recounted in the hilarious costume theatre, episode 7). They still miscommunicate and fail to communicate throughout the series. Jane and Bing Lee (Get it? Bing Lee?!) still meet and and bat eyes then separate then reunite. Caroline schemes against everyone. Mr. Collins remains loquacious and just plain weird. Lydia and Wickham behave badly. The most beloved aspects of the story remain faithful to Austen even if the situations (college deadlines, medical school, digital media, Las Vegas and Los Angeles trips, etc.) are very much present day. If you want to know what happens…I highly recommend watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Unlike the novel, however, the Bennet girls do not all marry and live happily ever after. Jane and Lizzie both get their men, but in very post-feminist ways by staying single and keeping their last names. Ly-dee-yah wises up and grows up in a nod to the camp that wished Austen-Lydia would have done so at the end of P&P. Wickham and Caroline just
slink fade away. But it all just works.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries definitely give you Lizzie Bennet’s unvarnished opinion on all matters in her life. We see her good and bad moments. We see her reactions to events and her actions to live her life. We see the reactions of her friends when they hear about her web diary and go watch the back episodes (I love it when Darcy pouts to Lizzie: “You called me a robot, and a newsie” in episode 61). I do think LBD has a little too much Lydia and possibly even Jane, and too little Darcy for my taste (we hear about him in episode 6, “Snobby Mr. Douchey” but do not actually see him until episode 59, from the neck down; his face appears in episode 60). We viewers get second-hand recountings of all the Lizzie/Darcy interactions at Netherfield, missing all the wonderful first-hand barb-trading and sly glances. It took waiting until episode 98 for the reconciliation. Really, can there ever be too much Darcy?
So, if you have the attention span of a gnat that can watch three to five minute web diary episodes and can tolerate a very modern variation of the Jane Austen classic, I highly recommend The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. FWIW, IMO.