Review: EMMA. (2020)

Director: Autumn de Wilde
Screenwriter: Eleanor Catton
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG for brief partial nudity
Release Dates: 3/6/20 (Theatres), 3/20/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2h 4min 
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Where to Watch: HBO
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Costume Design, Production Design; Possible–Adapted Screenplay; Long-Shot–Actress (Taylor-Joy), Supporting Actress (Hart)

When I heard that there was going to be yet another adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved Emma, I was skeptical and thought this remake was unnecessary (despite the recent success of the Little Women remake). I’d seen the ’90s version starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and believed it to be just fine, while not revelatory. Director Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 version is similar, in that it’s nothing special — and, it may be even less interesting than previous versions (the Paltrow version is the only one I’ve seen).  

De Wilde’s Emma. is certainly beautiful, from the impeccable production design to the fascinating costumes — it’s currently my pick for best Costume Design at this year’s Oscars — which all lends itself to the [intended] jovial, fruity tone of the story. And, yet, I didn’t find the majority of the film all that exciting, and Eleanor Catton’s script attempts to wrangle laughs where there are none. The funniest moments come from a delightful Bill Nighy — underused — and a hilariously gossipy Miranda Hart. It’s almost as though Catton attempted to replicate the humor present in the Oscar winning The Favourite, and because 2020’s Emma. is two MPAA ratings lower than the other film, it doesn’t succeed. Also, what’s with the odd period at the end of Emma.? Perhaps the creators were merely trying to differentiate this version from previous ones, as I can think of no other decent explanation. 

The character of Emma Woodhouse is incredibly unlikable in this movie, for at least the first two-thirds of it. I became aggravated with the way in which she treated her supposed friends — including an annoyingly over-the-top Mia Goth as new-in-town Harriet — and I found it nearly impossible to root for her to find happiness, to find love. Also, it’s incredibly easy to predict how things will turn out for Emma, even if you haven’t read the book for seen any of the earlier versions. But, surprisingly, these are among the best scenes, even though I wasn’t exacting rooting for Emma. It’s mostly thanks to Anya Taylor-Joy’s captivating, convincing performance that the dramatic scenes played so well. This, combined with her outstanding work in The Queen’s Gambit limited series, is sure to convince naysayers that she’s capable of commanding the screen — even when the material isn’t that good, as seen here. 

All in all, it’s a highly forgettable movie, despite its best efforts to do otherwise. I’ve read that some viewers found this adaption to be an inaccurate representation of the book, which would upset me too if I remembered the book better than I did. That all said, it has its moments off sheer delight and watchability (mostly thanks to Taylor-Joy), which are not numerous enough to be worthwhile.