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This delightfully fun and lighthearted comedy is based on the story that inspired the hit movie CLUELESS! Dazzling Gwyneth Paltrow (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS) shines as EMMA, a mischievous young beauty who sets up her single friends. Funny thing is ... she's not very good at it! So when Emma tries to find a man for Harriet (Toni Collette -- THE SIXTH SENSE, ABOUT A BOY), she makes a hilariously tangled mess of everyone's lives. You'll enjoy all the comic confusion ... until Emma herself falls in love, finally freeing everyone from her outrageously misguided attempts at matchmaking.
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Top Customer Reviews
The role was practically made for Gwyneth Paltrow, then a new, up and coming presence on the screen, just four years older than Emma in the book. Emma in her core has a good heart and, as Austen says, her flaws were mainly of having had things her own way far too often and a rather strong tendency to think too well of herself. She is independently wealthy (her thirty-thousand pounds was inherited from a relative), young,beautiful and intelligent but also somewhat snobbish and very class conscious, and having spent her entire life at Hartfield and Highbury as the belle of the local gentry is quite clueless about the lives of others, especially those beneath her social station. Gwyneth herself was much like Emma, essentially well-intended, young and beautiful, raised in a special Hollywood set that included having Steven Spielberg as her godfather and inclined in her Goop blog (before it went all-commercial) to dispense advice like never scrimp on your personal stylist, spray the air with liquid silver before sitting down in a plane seat and should you for some unknown reason find yourself having to fly coach (gasp) simply buy the whole row of seats so no one can sit down near you.
Gwyneth mastered the accent well enough, trained in singing and archery and studied the social rules of the period in preparation for the role. She is wonderfully supported by Jeremy Northam, who makes a fine Austen hero as Mr. Knightley. Toni Colette is quite the self-doubting acolyte as Harriet and gained weight for the role. The garrulous Miss Bates and her silent mother are convincingly played by an unrecognizable Sophie Thompson and Phillida Law, the sister and mother of actress Emma Thompson. The older characters were all well done. I have some reservations about Ewan McGregor's Frank Churchill. Fresh from Trainspotting, he was looking for something quite different to show he had range, but seemed a bit too affable at times and not as shallowly conceited as he should be. He's also supposed to be a dashing young man, but tha.t was undercut by a horrible wig that made him look like a wet cocker spaniel. He later disavowed the wig in interviews as a great mistake.
The characters of Mr. Elton and his bride Augusta (nee Hawkins) were deliberately changed to make them more broadly comic figures. In the book he is supposed to be quite handsome and she quite beautiful, which is hardly the case here. Juliet Stevenson's Augusta obviously needed her thousands of pounds that would always be called ten, to attract a husband. Alan Cumming's Mr. Elton seemed not so much handsome as a kind of twit in the way British actor Murray Melvin was in similar roles in british films of the 60's and 70's. Fot this film's conception of them they were quite well chosen.
Though the film was favorably received by most critics and a hit with the public, making back four times its cost in its first run alone, it had its criticisms. These mostly revolved around the film being "too pretty" with the realistic circumstances of the era glossed over. There was great poverty in the country, many people were wretched, etc. Also, the film hardly showed any of the vast army of servants required to keep up the opulent life of the gentry. This may be partially true but is beside the point in almost every way. Jane Austen was a great observer and satirist of country life but never some kind of social realist or reformer. This is the Regency Period, well before Charles Dicken's time when the Industrial Revolution and its vast Satanic mills had advanced far enough to create terrible conditions that needed reforming. Highbury is essentially Surrey - Box Hill, where the picnic takes place is an actual site in Surrey - not the Midlands, and Jane describes her Highbury as a place where everyone was well fed. Interestingly, the Industrial Revolution was being felt even in Highbury where lowly tradespeople like Mr. Weston and even moreso, the Clarks, were becoming so wealthy that they had fine houses and felt free to invite the gentry to their dinners and parties. This provides a wonderful joke as Emma awaits their invitation so she can refuse it only to have to show up as all the other gentry had accepted. For much of the Jane Austen film and television adaptation audience this world of hers is somewhat of a romantic place where everyone dresses so nicely and lives so well that it's more like a fairy tale world than an actual place.
The real problem with Jane Austen adaptations is that if you haven't read the books they are a challenging thing to figure out. You are presented, usually quite quickly with a large assortment of characters who you have little time to absorb. Not only are some related to each other but they exist in a world of by now bewildering rules of class and behavior that can be incomprehensible, especially if you are a newcomer to the genre. At least Emma is independently wealthy and isn't in a situation where she must marry or be ruined. At least there are no legal complexities like the Bennet's entailed estate in Pride and Prejudice. But there are still many complexities like Frank Churchill who is the son of Mr. Weston by his first wife but was adopted by his aunt of the Churchills in Yorkshire and had to take their name and only see his father once a year in London. (His mother, a daughter of the gentry, had married beneath her: Mr. Weston, a Captain in the army when they married, was a tradesman. His aunt took him in to preserve the family bloodline lest he become lowly like the very respectable Mr. Weston) See how complicated and strange it gets to someone today?
I cautiously recommend checking various online sources that describe the characters, but must warn you that some of them give too many plot points away and can spoil the film. Most of it is actually spoken of in the film but you have to listen to everything very carefully. This is especially true of characters like the Dixons and Campbells who aren't actually present in the film but have some importance in the plot. I do believe, however that this film is so well made that it can be enjoyed no matter how much or how little one knows about Jane Austen and Emma.
I am not a purist, so if the movie version doesn't follow the book to the letter, I'm okay with it as long as the main points are shown, the relationships are fleshed out and most of the dialogue is true to the author's written word. This version disappointed in showing the intimacy of the Knightley relationship with the Woodhouse family. But at only two hours it's going to be disappointing in one respect or another. Too much Harriet Smith, not enough Knightley, or the relationship between Churchill and Emma too.
If you're not a purist, I say watch all of the versions out there! They were all enjoyable in their own ways. :)
A relatively faithful adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is a bigscreen treat (the recent "Mansfield Park" was a disaster). Even looking at the cover is nice.
An unusually good Gwyneth Paltrow plays the well-intentioned but inept Emma, a pretty, witty aristocrat who believes that "the most beautiful thing in the world is a match well made!" Having married off her ex-governess to a family friend, she decides to take a poor friend of hers under her wing and find Harriet Smith a husband, but royally botches it in the process. Amid the tangle of loves, infatuations, and deceptions, Emma discovers that her own true love has been standing off to the side...
Paltrow is genuinely enjoyable-she practically glows. Ewan McGregor is totally convincing as the two-faced charmer Frank Churchill (despite his own claims, he does a good job). The actors playing Mr. Knightly, Harriet Smith, and the usual smarmy pastor and his creep of a wife are jewels.
It doesn't have quite the emotional resonance of "Sense and Sensibility", the BBC "Mansfield Park," or "Pride and Prejudice," but "Emma" is something of a lightweight story--there isn't much in the way of scandals. It's a nice bit of G-rated fun and comedy, enjoyable but not too heavy.
I really appreciate that the movie keeps your attention and is a very "clean" family movie. No need to worry about any foul language or inappropriate scenes.
It's a feel good movie!
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