You ever stop and wonder, “What would it look like if Wes Anderson adapted a Jane Austin novel?” Welp, this is pretty much as close as you’re going to get.
Emma is a new version of the novel of the same name by that very same Jane Austen. It tells the silly and sweet tale of Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), a silly busybody that fancies herself a matchmaker. She lives at home with her widower father (Bill Nighy), a fussy man that is absolutely terrified of catching his death of cold. Emma’s days are spent with her best friends, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) and George Knightley (Johnny Flynn). George is sick of her egotistical nonsense, but Harriet hangs on her every word as gospel. When Emma advises Harriet to turn down the perfectly nice Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) on his marriage proposal it causes a whirlwind of consequences as she desperately tries to keep everything together under the guise of social niceties.
Look, I wasn’t into this bullshit growing up. I didn’t mind Austen all that much, enjoyed the stinging jabs she took at the sexism and classism of her era (okay, it’s still relevant now), but it was all too cutesy for me. Now, though, I find it charmingly subtle and weirdly horny. Few types of stories can make something like a stolen glance or passing on the stairs feel so incredibly charged and arousing. So that’s…that’s a thing.
I compared this to the visual style of Wes Anderson and I stick to that. Autumn de Wilde’s first film comes out of the gate wearing its influences on its sleeve. Sure, it’s missing the obsessive symmetry and precocious youth, but it’s got the color palette and snappy dialogue (much of which is taken directly from Austin’s novel). Bill Nighy fits perfectly into this world, goofy and befuddled while grumpy and adoring towards his beloved youngest daughter. Also his coat game is on-point in this movie.
Our main attractions are Taylor-Joy and Goth, two baby-faced talents that carry the emotional weight of the film. These two manage to feel like friends in a story that paints them as people stuck together out of social requirements than any real chemistry. Goth holds a fantastic pathos and empathy while Taylor-Joy just oozes charisma and barely-contained sarcasm with every turn. She is able to play off of everyone well, but together with Goth is when we truly get to see them shine.
The score from Isobel Waller-Bridge is particularly lovely. Hymns, choral segments, and a recurring motif built for Emma herself that is light and breezy throughout. Almost no moment in this film is without some sort of sweetness and fun in the music. I may have had it on repeat for a day now.
As an adaptation your mileage is going to vary, but Emma proves that Austen films are always something to bet on as they have a built-in audience. It’s exciting that in a year without movie theatres we’ve managed to sneak this little darling up to $25,000,000+ due to simple word of mouth and favorable critical attention. I’m excited by this and can’t wait to see what de Wilde does from here.
Emma is currently streaming on HBO Max.