Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
Jane Austen has long been a genre unto herself, with her tales of drawing room chats, tangled bonds of families and scandals and marriage, and the complex games of love and desire that play between men and women.
Austen’s stories are so beloved that they serve as the de facto shorthand for any story set during the Regency period of England. The popular new Shonda Rhymes show on Netflix, Bridgerton, is itself adapted from a series of novels by Julia Quinn, but even so there is no question what tradition that show is following in, nor of what audience (and appetites) it is seeking to serve.
Along with Bridgerton, we also got an actual Austen adaptation to slake that particular hunger. Acclaimed photographer and music video director Autumn de Wilde made her feature length debut with Emma., starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular heroine.
Emma., for those of you who didn’t realize Clueless was adapted from a Jane Austen novel, charts the various misadventures that arise in Emma’s community after she takes it upon herself to start meddling in people’s lives after placing great stock in her own abilities as a matchmaker.
People caught up in the whirlwind of Emma’s plotting include shy Harriet (Mia Goth), odious Vicar Elton (Josh O’Connor), sincere Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells), and the brooding Frank Churchill (Callum Turner).
Surveying Emma’s games with bemusement are her kindly father (Bill Nighy) and family friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) whose distemper at Emma’s charades just might mask that he is the true match waiting to be made.
Emma has been filmed before, repeatedly, but with de Wilde’s vision and an idiosyncratic cast, there’s never been an Emma quite like this one.
Next Week’s Pick:
These still are from the same movie, and that movie is our next film club pick — mostly because our pal and Two Cents clubber Trey Lawson tweeted out the second pic a few days ago and told us it’s now available on HBO Max.
Earth Girls Are Easy features a very young and winning cast of post-The Fly Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, and pre-In Living Color Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans. I’ve never seen it and I just hope it’s half as wild as it looks. — Austin
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co anytime before midnight on Thursday!
I did not expect to be absolutely charmed by this iteration of Emma. We know this story, of course, but this adaptation manages to find a way to make it feel fresh. It all begins in the film’s aesthetic, with bright colors everywhere. Each scene feels like a splash of water to the face. I could watch this movie over and over again just for the details in the set design.
And then there’s the pure joy of this movie. One of my favorite characters in any movie this year is Bill Nighy. He is absolutely fantastic, and he seems to just be having a great time (minus the drafts, of course). In fact, there’s so much joy in this movie that it’s hard not to feel like every member of this cast is just having a fun time. It’s almost kind of like a high school play where everyone is pouring 100% of their heart into what’s happening, and it makes me love this movie so much. (@hsumra)
Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):
IsIf the only thing to recommend Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic romance were the director’s sumptuous visual sensibility and command of tone, it would be a solid companion to 1995’s Clueless (also from the same book). But what makes it a handsome match is the deft visual storytelling and canny use of playing actors not just ably against each other, but against themselves. Emma. is awash in those who are trying too hard to follow a set of complex social rules (many of which de Wilde introduces largely through context and trusting the audience to catch on) to healthily process their own emotions, let alone judge the feelings of others.
Which is, of course, what makes it such a banger of a rom-com, dressed in period drama livery and framed like a hornier Wes Anderson movie as it is at times (an unusual tightrope to choose, but one it walks ably and often hilariously). Anya Talyor-Joy proves a dynamite leading lady, able to turn on a dime from romantic crescendo to physical comedy, and the chemistry between her and Johnny Flynn make for a worthy pair of lovers from their first scene together.
I love so much about this, from the way de Wilde uses the depth of her frame to stack character and story through the background of group scenes to the unusual “soundtrack” the film uses, I love the seasonal title cards and the costume details, I love how tiny details throughout the movie reward repeat viewings, and I LOVE Bill Nighy’s obsession with drafts. (@BLCAgnew)
When you are viewing a new adaptation of a work that has been translated for screen multiple times, you wonder, how will this stand out? Will a distinct voice shine through (see Gerwig’s Little Women)? Will this version make you take a closer look at a different aspect of the work?
Sadly, with Autumn de Wilde’s Emma., I ended up comparing it to Heckerling’s Clueless and McGrath’s Emma. And once I started contrasting performances, costumes, screenwriting, etc… I kept wishing I was watching one of those earlier adaptations instead.
There’s nothing really wrong with this new Emma (period), but there’s not much of the new here either. (@elizs)
Read more of Elizabeth’s thoughts on Emma. HERE.
Emma. is wildly charming and more or less glides to easy success on the strength of its effortlessly appealing ensemble and bright, poppy vision of Regency-era shenanigans. Taylor-Joy makes for a terrific Emma, keeping you squarely in the character’s court even as the regrettable choices and unintended consequences thereof keep piling up. I don’t especially ‘get’ Flynn and his particular appeal, but I follow enough women on Twitter to know that he is definitely plenty appealing to the required audience.
But for as charming as the movie undoubtedly is, Emma. is missing some extra element that would make it a true must-watch and put it into classic status alongside Clueless or the Ang Lee Sense & Sensibility or whichever Pride & Prejudice is your favorite. de Wilde scatters the film with occasional flourishes of the kind of hyper-stylization you might expect from a music video director, but these never amount to anything much and are so inconsistently deployed that they mostly feel completely out-of-place in what’s otherwise a colorful but sober rendition of a well-worn tale. Emma. is nothing less than consistently pleasant throughout, but it’s somewhat forgettable in the larger canon of Austen films. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
I was very much looking forward to being charmed by Emma, never having read the novel, but almost immediately it felt a little disorienting. Things kind of take off without much introduction and even having seen Clueless, I soon felt not only a little lost by the quick pace and large cast of characters, but rather annoyed at the eponymous protagonist with her judgmental attitudes and constant meddling.
But of course, that’s kind of the point — this is a story about growth, and Emma is a character who learns and betters herself as it progresses. Once this arc started to come together I was not only fully on board but deeply moved at how she genuinely seeks to undo the damage she has caused.
While I was off and on with the story, the film consistently excels as a comedy of both manners and errors. The ultra clean and colorful production design lends a degree of whimsy, and the cast of characters with their little foibles and feuds are endlessly fun (I especially loved Bill Nighy in his unusually understated role as Emma’s father), and probably in good measure one of the reasons the tale has proved so timeless. (@VforVashaw)
Next week’s pick: