Thursday, February 18, 2021

Movie with Abe: Emma

Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Released March 6, 2020

Every generation has its share of snobs and gossips, those who would much rather be starting the conversations about everyone else than end up the subject of other people’s musings. In the present day, social media provides a particularly scathing outlet for anyone eager to keep on the latest all-important news to consume and spread information immediately and whenever they want. In the 1800s, on the other hand, keen observation and knowing the right people were far more crucial, and the lack of ever-available content meant that distracting from a scandalous story wasn’t easy, as entertainingly showcased in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s famed 1815 novel.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) lives with her father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) and always has her nose in someone else’s affairs. Her primary muse is the impressionable Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who is initially pursued by Robert Martin (Connor Swindells). Emma inserts herself into the situation and positions Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) as her ideal partner, while Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) expresses hesitation at her meddling and the elusive Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) remains a complicating factor in Emma’s far-from-innocent scheming.

Though it looks fresh and eye-popping thanks to the impressive technical work by costume designer Alexandra Byrne and production designer Kave Quinn, among others, this film isn’t a modern reinterpretation of a classic work. Unlike “The Great” or “Dickinson,” which insert anachronistic dialogue and storylines into the lives of people who lived centuries ago, this is a standard adaptation of its author’s work and merely a strong utilization of younger actors to play these parts and inject them with new life. Audiences typically opposed to this type of fare won’t find much to augment the experience, which does at times feel drawn-out due to a combination of its tame PG rating and its 124-minute runtime.

Overall, however, this perfectly ordinary cinematic realization of Austen’s writing is more than competent, matching its visuals with strong performances from up-and-coming talent well-known for other breakout projects. Taylor-Joy, a major star thanks to “The Queen’s Gambit,” is full of personality as Emma, and it’s great to see O’Connor, Flynn, and Turner in different roles than the ones in which this reviewer has previously encountered them. Nighy is a dry delight as always, and Goth is truly great. If nothing else, it’s reassuring to know that returning to the same material with a fresh eye for detail and style can be completely worthwhile, as is the case with this light and entertaining period piece.


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