I’m on a roll. I fell asleep in the middle of Little Women a few months ago, and now I fell asleep in the middle of the latest remake of a book and previous film — Emma. And you can’t chalk this up to me being a male critic that can’t appreciate Jane Austen. One of my favorite movies is Sense and Sensibility. I also kind of liked Austenland, which got horrible reviews (Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour). That rom-com involved women staying at an Austen theme park.
For those of you, like myself, that haven’t read the book — Emma is a “clever, rich” maiden who likes to play matchmaker, and is also a bit of a jerk. At first I thought she was perfectly cast, played by Anna Taylor-Joy (who I loved as the evil teenager in Thoroughbreds a few years ago).
But Emma needs a bit more warmth, instead of “resting bitch face” and evil looks. Sometimes the eyes have to be right for a character. It’s one of my complaints with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers. Hanks had eyes that looked like they were judging you, not like they were comforting you.
There’s also no chemistry between Emma and Knightley. But enough complaining about Anna Taylor-Joy.
It’s the early 1800s, and Emma Woodhouse tries to get the local vicar, Mr. Elton, (not to be confused with the Rocketman), to marry the rather simple Harriet Smith (Mia Goth). Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) is having none of that. The problem with him was he had the tics and expressions of a younger Hugh Grant, and the face of an Owen Wilson/Wyatt Russell. Half the movie I thought he walked around looking like he was constipated.
Emma’s dad (the always enjoyable Bill Nighy) seems mostly obsessed with drafts and screens.
There’s a rather dashing bachelor named Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), but I can’t remember what he was doing in all this. Maybe that was most of when I slept. Perhaps I’ll lose all credibility as a critic when I just say — I loved how this story was modernized in the mid-90s with Amy Heckerling’s brilliant Clueless.
Even moments that you should love, like watching Nighy give his son-in-law crap, should have been more enjoyable. The humor in this just didn’t work.
Music video director Autumn de Wilde made her feature film debut with this picture, which makes me wonder if everyone is going to complain at the end of the year that she’s a female director getting snubbed. Anyone that sees this though, won’t feel she was snubbed. Aside from incredible costume and production design, this film doesn’t have a lot going for it. Hopefully
Alexandra Byrne, the costume designer, will nab an Oscar nomination.
The soundtrack was a bit heavy-handed, and sometimes the songs reminded me a bit of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Not sure why some of the tunes were so folky.
Since my wife loved the book I asked her what she thought of this. She said, “The Gwyneth Paltrow movie was much, much better. This was okay, but just like I said with Downton Abbey and Little Women, if you don’t know anything about these characters, it’ll just be boring.”
It certainly was.
1 ½ stars out of 5.