Moderator / Reviewer
- Apr 4, 2017
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Jane Austen is probably one of the most prolific period piece inspirations for movies since William Shakespeare. Her novels have spanned centuries of theater, films, and story adaptations, even going so far as to inspire satires and modern day imitations of her works. When it comes to a female driven period piece drama, one of the go to sources is almost ALWAYS a Jane Austen novel. The novel Emma happens to be one of her more fun and flirty novels, imbued with a humor that was outside of the normalcy of traditional dramas (even though Austen famously inserts very witty and dry humor into even the most serious of her dramatic tales) and was done fantastically back in the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle (which SERIOUSLY needs to come out on Blu-ray I might add) so I was a might curious about the newest adaptation. The trailer looked amusing and I really do like Anya Taylor-Joy, so I gave it a spin.
Sadly the film has a hard time living up to the fairly high standards of the 24 year old variant that most of us have seen over the years. It’s not nearly as accurate to the source material, nor as funny, as it’s predecessor, and hovers the line between being a period piece drama or a satire of the genre convention. Most of the jokes are sight gags and witty situational bits, but they seem to fall flat many times (not as often as the hits, but enough that it made the viewing a bit laborious). You could see director Autumn de Wilde desperately setting up the jokes, and everyone involved is just shy of winking at the screen to let the audience in on the gag, only for said audience to be sitting in their chairs wondering if the punchline was SUPPOSED to be funny or not.
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a rich socialite who fancies herself a bit of a matchmaker, setting up everyone around her with her version of cupid’s arrow, while staying steadfastly away from the trappings of emotion and love herself. Finding herself a bit lonely after her best friend, the newly minted Mrs. Weston (Gemma Whelan), ascends to the ranks of holy matrimony, and decides to garner herself a new friend. She does so in the form of Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a girl of unknown parental pedigree, and an obvious source of manipulation and romantic control. Harriet is head over heels for one Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), a poor dairy farmer, and Emma immediately turns Harriet’s attentions away form the young lad, convinced that she can do better than a commoner.
Autumn de Wilde tries her best, but the film flounders trying to find itself midst the fray of situational humor and dramatic tension. The film can’t seem to decided whether it wants to be a funny adaptation of Jane Austen’s famed novel, or whether it wants to be a satire of the period drama as a whole. Jokes are coming fast and furious, but they tend to miss the viewer more times than I’d like, and the actors sway greatly between trying to emote true dramatic acting range or ham it up for the jokes. As such, Emma has a very difficult time finding it’s own particular groove, riding the fence post, so to speak, and never really giving itself over to any one particular side. Funny? Sure, it can be. Dramatic? Again, it certainly can be. But at the end of the day the film is not anything more than the sum of it’s parts and manages to alienate fans of the original Jane Austen novel and movie, as well as fans of cheeky modernist satire on the whole genre.
Rated PG for brief partial nudity
• Deleted Scenes
• A Playful Tease
• The Autumn Gaze
• Crafting a Colorful World
• Audio Commentary with director Autumn de Wilde, Screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and Director of Photography Christopher
Emma is cheeky and witty, blending elements of true drama under the guise of a biting comedy. Everyone involved does a great job with the roles they have been given (especially Mia Goth, I adored her in this film), but at the end of the day the movie does struggle a bit with finding it’s own identity. Jokes were fast and furious and while the misses are frustrating, there were more hits than there are misses. The Blu-ray looks and sounds jaw dropping in the technical department, and the extras (while modest) are worth checking out. Worth a rental for fans of Austen and other period piece dramas.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Angus Imnie, Letty Thomas, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Autumn de Wilde
Written by: Eleanor Catton (Screenplay, Jane Austen (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Runtime: 124 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 19th, 2020