While matchmaking for friends and neighbours, a young 19th Century Englishwoman nearly misses her own chance at love.While matchmaking for friends and neighbours, a young 19th Century Englishwoman nearly misses her own chance at love.While matchmaking for friends and neighbours, a young 19th Century Englishwoman nearly misses her own chance at love.
I like Gwyneth Paltrow, and I love Jane Austen. (That sounds bad. Sorry Gwyneth.)
And this is a great movie for its writing, and a stiff and imperfect movie for its acting. And for Austen fans (and fans is an understatement for some of them) this is almost awful movie. Awful if you love sublime writing and can't stand to see it so wooden.
Paltrow is good. She's pretty. She's appropriately upright. But she insists on "delivering" her lines. She has them memorized, yes. But she doesn't inhabit the character. And Emma, the character, is one of the best of all literature, filled with sassy individualism and social blindness due to ordinary teenage arrogance. The material is there, and it's a great story (if you like early 19th Century melodramas bordering on soap opera of the highest level).
So, it's not a terrible presentation of the movie, but it is, to be sure, a presentation. I honestly think (and don't tremble in rage here) that Alisha Silverstone in "Clueless" gets the spirit of Emma much closer. There is of course a gap of sensibilities here that I'm ignoring—a girl in 1995 (Silverstone) is no match for a girl in Austen's time. I'll leave that one vague.
About "Emma" it's worth saying that the sets and costumes are so convincing you don't really think about them. Everything is brightly lit (which I suppose is a reasonable choice, though it flattens the film emotionally as opposed to, say, the Merchant-Ivory approach). The whole spectacle is spread before the camera lovingly, if a bit predictably.
In the end it's Austen who wins. The writing, both in the specific dialog and in the general plot outline, are delicate and witty and insightful. Nothing sensational here, just drawing room observation at its best. Kudos for that much, and a reasonable translation to film. It's Austen who wins all those stars.
- Jan 17, 2014