Emma (2020): A Post-Quarantined Appreciation

I know that after stating in my introductory post that horror films might be the focal point of this blog, that will not always be the case. A prime example is this first post. Instead of writing an appreciation for the Full Moon Entertainment cult Puppet Master films (which most definitely will occur in the future), I instead am drafting this piece on Autumn De Wilde’s 2020 candy-colored literary adaptation Emma.

This film serves as a rather important one for me at this odd point in time. Emma happens to be the last film that I will see in an actual movie theatre for what appears to be some time. Interestingly enough, Universal has announced that they will be releasing for early quarantined streaming for those practicing social-distancing at home. This was a film that I went to see without even seeing a trailer prior to my viewing of it. So for those of you in the same position, here is the trailer:

Focus Features has released another stunningly costumed period piece. I’m going to make a confession now. I have never read Jane Austen’s Emma, so I cannot attest to the detailed comparison between the narratives of these two texts. What I can say, however, is that I was doing a nice job of aligning the characters from Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995) to their appropriate molds in this film.

It is really emotional to think that it might be several months before I am back sitting in a movie theatre again. But I will be honest, I think I saw the best film of the pre-quarantined time when I sat reclined with the seat warmers running at the Cinemark Bistro. (So fancy, I know!) To say that this film features an excellent cast would be an understatement. Anya-Taylor Joy revels in the protagonist’s matchmaking and society-challenging schemes while providing so many cheeky looks to the camera that the viewer cannot help but to become just as enamored of her as everyone in the village. Bill Nighy contributes a performance that ranges from daft and hilarious to tragic and emotional. This was the first film that I had seen Johnny Flynn featured in, and as a fan of his music, I was quite interested to witness his screen presence. Flynn adds layers of humor and romantic leading man qualities to the film, that compliment Joy’s acting decisions nicely. Mia Goth’s Harriet is awkward and so on point for this poor young girl that is being nurtured and groomed by Emma. Miranda Hart’s Miss Bates comes close to stealing the show, as well, as she annoys Emma and Harriet with tales of her illustrious niece Jane Fairfax (as shown below).

De Wilde’s film is one of great humor but also of great filmic beauty. Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography is classically beautiful but also brimming with energy and excitement as Emma’s match-making attempts fail that it is difficult to know where to look. Emma serves as a reminder that an adaptation of a 204-year-old novel need not be a stuffy and boring affair. Sofia Coppola’s oft-maligned Marie Antoinette (2006) could be viewed as a mild influence on the film, save the punk-rock soundtrack and faster edits. De Wilde’s Emma feels so alive that a modern young audience should have no problem engaging with it. Often times, period films are viewed as strictly for mature and elderly audiences, but this is a film that can capture anyone’s attention and hold it for its 124 minute duration. The comedy was so effective that my friend Jenny and I laughed out loud countless times throughout the film.

The female gaze of the film is present from the onset, as the camera lingers on Johnny Flynn’s George Knightley as he dresses, and we see how he is an object of affection for multiple women throughout the film. This contrasts so refreshingly with the ever-present male gaze that is utilized in the great majority of films.

As stated early on, Alexandra Byrne’s costume work in the film is incredibly striking and features very bold color choices that greatly compliment each actor donning the pieces. Anya-Taylor Joy is given so many iconic looks in the film that it without a doubt will be up for costuming awards throughout the next awards cycle. The locations chosen for the film add an additional layer of warmth and narrative accuracy to the film, as well. The spaces that the characters inhabit really add up to, as clichéd as the sentiment sounds, characters in their own right.

I’ll be completely honest. I loved this film. It captured me from the very beginning and had me laughing and also invested in the emotional entanglements of all its characters for the entirety of the film. It’s easy to brush off new adaptations of classic literature that have been brought to life on screen multiple times as not having anything new to contribute, but this rendition of Emma is far from that lot. It breathes new life into Jane Austen’s classic novel and creates a film that will surely entertain you.

While it is quite sad that we’re unable to go to the movie theatre for the foreseeable future, it is nice to know that I went out with a bang with this one. To all of you quarantined film lovers, definitely consider renting it from Universal when they release it this Friday. And remember to keep watching new films and step outside of your comfort zone!

On a side note, for anyone interested in Johnny Flynn’s musical career, check out the video below for one of his earlier hits from his 2008 album A Larum.

Also, if you haven’t witnessed the comedic chops of Miranda Hart, do yourself a favor and watch her hilarious show, Miranda (streaming on both Hulu or Amazon Prime at this time).

Until next time, film folks!
-Eric

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