Saturday, March 14, 2020

Find Me a Find, Catch Me a Catch

Movies: Emma.

There's just something about the works of Jane Austen. Though written more than 200 years ago, her novels have a timeless freshness and humor. They also elevate women, their lives, and their pursuits. Though we may view ballroom dancing, matchmaking, and table manners as uptight fripperies from out 21st century perspective, they could literally make or break your entire life in the early 19th century--especially if you were a woman. A poor match in a husband could leave you destitute, abused, and unhappy. And divorce was not an option.

Which is why the classic comedy, Emma, may be funny but it also feels extremely serious at times. The story has been adapted for television and film a dozen times with Autumn de Wilde's latest reimagining coming in at #12. Most folks are familiar with perhaps one of the best adaptations--Amy Heckerling's Clueless. De Wilde's version hews closer to the original novel and, since its director is a renowned artist, is visually sumptuous.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays the titular young woman, described as "handsome, clever, and rich". Emma Woodhouse has the world on a silver platter: she is 21 years old, beautiful, popular, and wealthy. She fancies herself a matchmaker after pairing up a kindly widower, Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves) with her governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan). However, she finds herself very out of her depth when she tries to pair young, possibly poor Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) with a clergyman/cad, Mr. Elton (John O'Connor). If you've seen Clueless, this is the failed Elton/Tai match Cher tries to make. Throughout her meddling, Emma is scolded by Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), her brother-in-law who is always hanging around.

The chemistry between Emma and Knightley is lighter and, dare I say, sexier, than that other famous Austen couple, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Knightley is much less emo than the old Darce and Emma is just more fun than Lizzie (#sorrynotsorry). Knightley's criticism of Emma stems from the fact that he knows she is intelligent and that people look up to her--so when she uses her powers to forward her own agenda, she is doing both herself and everyone else a disservice. Knightley's love for Emma comes from a place of respect, knowing that she is much more than a rich girl in a pretty dress. Taylor-Joy and Flynn make a fun and compelling couple.

But really, everyone in the film does an excellent job. The cast is stacked floor to ceiling with British character actors, from Bill Nighy as Emma's dad to Miranda Hart as the dorky Miss Bates. Also, nobody here looks "Hollywood beautiful". Everyone looks...well, pretty average, which I know is a convention of British TV and film--regular folks can aspire to be actors there, not just models. But still, it's refreshing.

As mentioned above, the cinematography is gorgeous. Both the small things, like ladies' dresses, but also the views of the rolling English hills. Emma proves to be as pretty and as delightful as one of the petit fours Emma and Harriet eat during their many teas together. And the friendship between Emma and Harriet is really touching, especially when Emma realizes she has hurt her friend multiple times and now sees the error of her ways.

If you're a fan of Austen, you won't be disappointed with this adaptation. If you're not a fan, go see it anyway because it might make a fan of you.

Grade: A-

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