Movie Review: "Emma."
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the youngest daughter of the wealthy Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy). While her sister has married and moved into her own house, Emma remains—gladly—at her father’s estate. Emma has built a reputation as the local matchmaker, with a perfect record in predicting and setting up couples who would go on to marry. Nonetheless, she refuses to make such predictions regarding herself.
Emma is currently the lady of her father’s estate, but—if she were to marry—she would always be in her hypothetical husband’s shadow, while leaving her aging father to live by himself. No, she would much rather go on acting as matchmaker for local couples, all while being the respected lady of her father’s estate. However, when a particular prediction goes wrong, things begin to get out of hand. Additionally, her friendship with George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) begins to take an unexpected turn. On top of all of that, many have been trying to set Emma up with Frank Churchill (Callum Turner). Frank Churchill will go on to inherit great wealth and a great estate, but Emma has no plans to marry at the moment.
The Pros & Cons
Anya Taylor-Joy (+8pts)
The Setup (-5pts)
The Characters (+4pts)
The Comedy (-5pts)
Emma & Harriet (+3pts)
The Plot (-10pts)
Pro: Anya Taylor-Joy (+8pts)
I very honestly thought that Anya Taylor-Joy carried this movie. I thought the movie was pretty boring, and while I know that I am not the movie’s intended demographic, I thought that the movie’s issues were more than that. I will get into my issues with the plot later in this review. However, I brought the plot issues up here to make the point that—despite how boring I thought the movie was—I thought Anya Taylor-Joy made this movie tolerable.
I know her from Split and Glass, and while she delivered effective dramatic-horror performances in those movies, she absolutely carried this one. She is a talented young actress and played this character with a lot of dramatic complexity. She got me invested in the character, even if I was not invested in the story. She played the character with strength, but the way she played the character’s more vulnerable moments was relatable and captivating. She made me feel for the character, and made me interested in the characters growth throughout this movie, and did so in a movie that I found to be mostly boring. She is a talented young actress and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Con: The Setup (-5pts)
The setup to this movie was confusing and felt incoherent. Part of this—I think—was due to the overall plot issues, and again, I will get into that later. Nonetheless, the setup to this movie felt really messy. It was full of heavy, complicated dialogue between characters we did not know talking about other characters we did not know.
This meant that I had absolutely no connection to what was being said, and no investment in who was saying it. It also meant that there was a considerable amount of screen time in which I had no idea what this story would be about. As the filmmakers began introducing more characters, these issues began to go away. However, know that the issues only went away gradually and ultimately resulted in a pretty sloppy start.
Pro: The Characters (+4pts)
When the sloppy setup was all said and done, we were left with an assortment of complex characters. Given how poor I thought the plot was, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the various characters in this town. Each character felt fleshed out, each character had their own behavior and motives, and I really got the feeling that the filmmakers put in the effort to develop them all properly. In addition to Emma, there was George Knightley, Frank Churchill, Harriet Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Elton, the Bates, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Woodhouse, and more. The cast of this movie was filled with a variety of characters that all came together to form a ton of complex relationships that overlapped and criss-crossed with other relationships. Each person wanted different things, and I thought the filmmakers did a pretty decent job of juggling all of them simultaneously in a way that made predicting the outcomes of certain situations difficult. The plot was not there to really pull me into their stories, but I thought the filmmakers did a pretty good job with the characters in this movie.
Con: The Comedy (-5pts)
There were a lot of moments that I am pretty sure were intended as comedy that just did not land. I am at least pretty sure that they were intended as comedy, considering the movie was labeled as a comedy-drama. Anyway, there were very few "comedic" moments that amused me at all. There were a couple, that got a light chuckle out of me—most of these involved Miss Bates (Miranda Hart)—but even the best of the movie's comedic moments were only worthy of a light chuckle. The rest made for awkward moments where you—the viewer—will know that the filmmakers were trying to make you laugh, but completely missed the mark. This movie was a comedy-drama that was missing the comedy, and the movie felt lacking as a result.
Pro: Emma & Harriet (+3pts)
I ended up liking this friendship a lot more than I thought I would. Emma was the daughter of the wealthy Mr. Woodhouse, but Harriet’s parentage was unknown. Harriet was not at all in the same social class as Emma, but Emma found a companion in her. She has been a mentor of sorts, but her recent matchmaking error has added tension to their friendship.
Nonetheless, Harriet looked up to Emma, and Emma was protective of Harriet. That is really the setup to their friendship, and I obviously will not say how their story played out, but I enjoyed how protective Emma was of Harriet. We have seen similar stories where the wealthy character takes the other for granted, but that was not the case here. I got the sense that Emma truly cared for Harriet, and I thought their friendship was refreshingly interesting.
Con: The Plot (-10pts)
I have already eluded to this a few times throughout this review, but I thought the plot for this movie needed a lot of work. The real issue here was that the plot seemed to be non-existent. There just did not seem to be an overall goal for Emma. Instead, it was a movie about a group of rich people trying to marry each other, and Emma just happened to be the focal point.
Was the story about Emma trying to set Harriet up with someone? Was it about her and Knightley’s friendship? Was it about Emma’s matchmaking reputation? After seeing the movie, it was clear that the movie was not “about” any of those things. It was a story about Emma, with all of those things sort of just happening. Had the filmmakers focused the story on any of these things, then the movie could have been impactful and emotionally gripping. Instead, it all just felt sort of hollow and without meaning, and I thought the movie suffered greatly for it.
Grade: C- (70pts)
I had no idea that this movie was coming out, and I went into it knowing nothing about it. Going into movies like that can be a lot of fun, and has led to some of my favorite movie going experiences. Unfortunately, this movie was not one of them. Anya Taylor-Joy was easily the best part of the movie, but she was not enough to save it. Still, she delivered a relatable and impressive dramatic performance that pulled me into her character’s mindset and got me invested in the character. Evidently she even got a nosebleed on cue, which I think is crazy. I did not like the movie, but Anya Taylor-Joy was hardly the problem and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
The filmmakers did a decent job of juggling the variety of characters, and I enjoyed the friendship between Emma and Harriet, but the movie was plagued with plot issues. More specifically, there did not appear to be a clear, primary plot. There were a few candidates, but the filmmakers did not give any enough focus for them to make any real impact. The result was a movie with a messy start, and a hollow, meaningless story. This was made even worse by all the comedy that missed its mark. There were a couple light-chuckle worthy moments, but most of the comedy fell flat. I think there was enough material for an impactful story here, but the filmmakers delivered a dud.