Film Reviews

EMMA.: Handsome, Clever, and a Bitch


Listen, I am nothing if not an absolute slut for period pieces. The blissful ignorance and imposed gravitas perpetuated by a wave of nostalgia for a mysterious, bygone era is enough to make anyone’s heart a-flutter. The previous notion is of course no stranger to the work of Amy Sherman Palladino’s predecessor, Jane Austen. To this day PRIDE & PREJUDICE, with its attention to sisterhood, a wrongfully self-assured heroine, and a “bad boy with a heart of gold” love interest, has solidified itself as one of my favorite pieces of literature. EMMA., unfortunately, has never drawn the same fervor; in fact it often boils up something even worse than disdain: apathy. Although, with the promise of a 2020 release and a directorial debut from famous photographer Autumn de Wilde, I was eager to turn over a new leaf. Not to mention nothing momentarily cures a depressive bout like empire waistlines in the English Countryside.

Emma tea

Is this Ms. Sarah Tonin?

To comment on the Cinematography at all, in any way, shape, or form of EMMA. would be completely moot. In fact to expect anything less than absolutely gorgeous visuals and a copacetic, playful shot direction is an insult. There are many other aspects of this film, considering it’s De Wilde’s debut, that warrant more recognition. For instance, the pacing. Despite a source material with centuries of history and countless adaptations, the second act still plateaus and feels a grand total of four hours long. The third act, surprisingly, speeds up and leads the charge on ending the film with an overall cheeky high note.

Pacing shortcomings aside, EMMA. finally does something that other adaptations, specifically Gwenyth Paltrow’s performance, have completely missed the mark on. Emma Woodhouse, to her core, is an anti-hero. She is not likable, at all! She is a classist snob who has always gotten exactly what she wants, and has never faced any repercussions for her precocity. Therefore when she comes into adulthood, she thinks she can do what she’s always done; flit around in a nice dress and speak as if every word is scripture because truly, madly, deeply, who is going to question the richest, most beautiful woman in town? De Wilde and Anya Taylor Joy execute this beautifully, as so often it’s the delivery of the lines that make Emma’s words finally sting.

Emma face

Deluding yourself into thinking you’re literally Aphrodite? Rich people are bonkers

Emma gaslights Harriet, her unbeknownst most recent victim of matchmaking, into thinking there’s no possible new love for Harriet other than hero Frank Churchill. Moreso when it comes to insulting Miss Bates, the climax of the film—Emma has used her smart mouth and devilish charisma to convince people of anything, but this is a time when her words, specifically, get her in trouble. In this regard, EMMA. has picked up where CLUELESS has dropped off in terms of Emma/Cher finally being the entitled brat she is so that her apologies, guilt, and especially love for Mr. Knightley/Josh mean something in the end, culminating in the fact that Emma’s changed to not only realize she can be wrong, but moreover likes that she can.

Where EMMA. could’ve taken more of a page from CLUELESS would be peppering in some more spiciness between Emma and Mr. Knightley. The delicate close-up of Mr. Knightley’s hand brushing Emma’s dress and him running to her house as she is bathed in sunlight, hoping for him at the window, are two of the best and, unfortunately, only examples of such. We start off in the first act completely in the middle of their witty banter. Then in the third act, we’re clutching our hearts and on our seat’s edge to wait for them to finally say how they feel. However, there’s not much of an in-between. Perhaps it’s because their witty banter stems from their covert feelings, but lord knows it would have helped get through that second act to see their dynamic start to shift. Mia Goth’s delectable portrayal of Harriet and her charming impishness can only carry so much of the film’s weight.

Emma painting

The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be MIA GOTH

I saw EMMA. at 10:15 at the Cinemadome in Hollywood, CA, and it’s not a choice I would necessarily impose on any person, nor their wallet. The film will be just as beautiful ordering at 2 AM on Amazon Prime, when you can’t go to sleep and have been meaning to watch it. It is also a hopeful, although not ardent, reminder that as classic tales usher into common property, some adaptations can be transportive and at the very least enjoyable. No matter what, though, we should all be excited for Autumn de Wilde and her stellar cast’s impending work.

Jesse Herb
Jesse Herb acts as a contributor for Merry-Go-Round to finally show she deserves a Thrasher hoodie. She needs to brush her teeth, gags at the phrase “old soul,” and has made it her life’s work to watch all of Ellen Page’s filmography.

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