THE STORY – Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever and rich”, meddles in the romantic affairs of her friends and loved ones.
THE CAST – Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn & Bill Nighy
THE TEAM – Autumn de Wilde (Director) & Eleanor Catton (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 124 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Autumn de Wilde makes her directorial debut with “Emma.,” costume comedy/drama based on the famous novel by Jane Austen. Much like “Little Women,” this classic story of an upper-class socialite trying to play matchmaker has been adapted multiple times for both film and television, leading each generation into having their own version of the story. There’s been the 1995 loose adaptation “Clueless,” the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow starring vehicle and now we have this one, which for many will be the best adaptation yet.
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a single, desirable, wealthy young woman living in Highbury who takes great pleasure in playing matchmaker and getting involved in other people’s affairs. As her games become more personal and the webs she creates become more tangled, she ends up alienating her closest friends all the while coming to grips with her own desires.
Coming off the heels of Best Picture nominee “The Favourite,” there are more than a few occasions while watching “Emma.” that reminds us of Yorgos Lanthimos’ own unique, highly witty costumed period film. At first, it feels like “Emma.” wants to be “The Favourite,” with its wicked quips, self-aware humor and rapid dialogue. However, over time, it becomes its own movie, lead by a character that is so “handsome, clever and rich”, that she makes this latest version of Jane Austen’s novel, worth seeking out. Anya Taylor-Joy breaks out of her comfort zone within the horror genre and puts herself in the 1800s with all the rules and proper manners of etiquette that high society is expected to obey, and throws them all out the window. We’ve never seen her like this before and it only goes to show you the range she has as an actress as she navigates other people’s emotions, while unbeknownst to herself, subconsciously navigating through her own. She’s viciously amusing but never loses our sympathy, providing us with a character we can follow and believe in.
She isn’t alone though as the entire cast of “Emma.” brings their A-game, providing this film with a well-rounded ensemble. Starting off with the men, Johnny Flynn also continues to show us his range after stunning many of us with the independent thriller “Beast” as George Knightley, a friend of Emma’s who can match her wit and is unafraid to call her out on her misdeeds. Josh O’Connor brings all of his comedic goofiness to the role of Mr. Elton while Bill Nighy receives the biggest laughs in the entire film as Emma’s father, as he complains about the occasional draft in his house, Mr. Elton’s pronunciation of the word “innocence” during a wedding and more. He’s an absolute riot. Mia Goth gives a very vulnerable and naive performance as Emma’s best friend Harriet. Her affections & emotions are the ones which are toyed with the most by Emma and Goth fully earns our sympathy with her stellar work here. And then there’s Miranda Hart as Miss. Bates, a trivial but well-intentioned woman who famously unleashes a fiery insult from Emma upon her resulting in one of the film’s best scenes.
From a technical standpoint, “Emma.” looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. It features a light but lovely score with fantastically composed and lit shots. While the screenplay’s driving force for the narrative may be a bit unclear at first, the twists of who will inevitably end up marrying who and whether or not these characters will ultimately be happy in the end becomes quite a compelling story backed by an entertaining ensemble who keep us riveted with Jane Austen’s words from beginning to end.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A well rounded, entertaining cast led by a phenomenal Anya Taylor-Joy. Excellent costumes, production design, cinematography and score.
THE BAD – The screenplay takes awhile to build its momentum. Feels like it’s trying too hard to copy the style of humor from “The Favourite.”