New Austen Film a Lively, Lavish Adaptation
March 12, 2020
Hot on the heels of Greta Gerwig’s awe-inspiring take on Little Women, we now have another iteration of a female-penned classic novel.
As expected, the new Pixar film Onward took the No. 1 spot at the U.S. box office over the weekend, selling a respectable (though not mind-blowing) $40 million over its first three days of release.
Jane Austen’s Emma may be best known as the jumping off point for the mid-’90s rom-com Clueless. But in her directorial debut, Autumn de Wilde gives us a more traditional version of the tart tale. This is a sumptuous vision, filled with the lavish costume design and set decoration that we’d come to expect from a period piece like this, but it also comes with flourishes that distinguish it from the genre. The film’s humor ranges from biting to whimsical and often within the same scene, which perfectly suits the flitting nature of the title character.
This time around, the haughty and posh matchmaker Emma Woodhouse is played by Glass star Anya Taylor-Joy. She cares for her father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) within their massive estate, though he largely stays removed from her affairs. To pass the time, she latches onto subjects around her and becomes interspersed with their romantic prospects, most notably the naive young orphan Harriet (Mia Goth). She has eyes for the plainspoken farmer Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells) but Emma maintains that she can do much better for herself and attempts to set her up instead with the obsequious Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor). Through all of this, Emma pursues a friendship with the fetching Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who sees past her conniving ways and into her true essence.
Emma has always been a bit of a tricky character, as she has to straddle that line of arrogance and amiability. Taylor-Joy captures this dichotomy even better than Paltrow did in the 1996 film adaptation. From the way she blithely pushes open a carriage window with a flippant tap of her index finger to the way she violently fans herself upon being bested by a friend’s pianoforte performance, she has all the mannerisms that capture the self-assured yet insecure nature of her character.
As Knightly, Flynn is a grounded and cunning foil to the more flighty Emma, and the two performers have a winning chemistry from their initial scene together. After a heartbreaking scene in which Emma makes an impudent remark towards Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), Knightley properly reproaches Emma and we’re reminded that this heroine is far from faultless.
Set across a full year in the charming village of Highbury, with each season getting its own title card, we feel the passage of time ebb and flow as alliances are forged and broken. This movement is aided greatly by the enchanting and vivacious musical score by Isabel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer, which is so spirited that you’d be forgiven for thinking the characters could break out in song at any moment. Adding to the opulent table setting is the diverse and vibrant costume design by Alexandra Byrne, which outfits the women with exquisite dresses that practically tell their own story and the men with pompous collars so high and stiff that it’s a wonder they can muster any breath at all.
As costume dramas go, Emma isn’t quite as subversive and biting as The Favourite or Love and Friendship, but it’s certainly no stuffy affair either. There are plenty of laughs to be had at the periphery, especially from Bill Nighy’s Woodhouse character, who doesn’t speak often but effortlessly lands some of the film’s funniest quips. Whether he’s sniping at Mr. Elton’s pronunciation of “innocence” or hiding behind a fort of fire screens in his ornate parlor, his pouty patriarch is a welcome presence at every turn. Emma is yet another example of timeless literature finding its match with a promising young talent on the rise.
Coming to theaters this weekend
The Hunt, starring Betty Gilpin and Emma Roberts, is a politically-charged thriller about a group of strangers who discover that they are being hunted for sport by wealthy members of a secret organization.
Bloodshot, starring Vin Diesel and Eiza González, follows a slain marine who is brought back to life with nanotechnology and turned into a super soldier.
Opening at Cinema Center is Portrait of a Lady on Fire, starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, about a a female painter commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman in 18th century France.
The Dan Scanlon (Monster’s University) film, voiced by Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Ali Wong, Octavia Spencer, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has sold $68 million worldwide and holds a current score of 61/100 on Metacritic.
The film tells the story of two blue elf brothers who set out on an adventure to look for magic. Cute, right? The animation, of course, is gorgeous, even if the story sounds less imaginative than most Pixar flicks.
Also at the Box
The Blumhouse-produced horror reboot, The Invisible Man, had a strong second week, taking the No. 2 spot at the U.S. box office with another $15 million in sales, upping the film’s 10-day domestic sales total to just under $53 million.
Add in foreign sales and the Leigh Wannell-directed, Elisabeth Moss-starring, R-rated thriller has already sold just under $100 million worldwide.
The Invisible Man currently holds a store of 71/100 on Metacritic; not bad at all for a horror film.
Gavin O’Connor’s latest effort, basketball/redemption flick The Way Back, starring Ben Affleck, had a ho-hum first three days of release, selling just $8.5 million despite strong reviews and quite a bit of hype.
Affleck, who plays a high school basketball coach, has said that The Way Back is his favorite movie he’s ever been in. Whoa. Do you believe him? Do I believe him? No, I don’t.
That being said, O’Connor (Warrior) is a very good director, and some of the reviews have been very intriguing. I’ll be checking this one out sooner than later.
Next up is Sonic the Hedgehog, which took the No. 4 spot at the box while selling $8 million, bringing the adventure flick’s 24-day domestic sales total to a solid $140 million. The film has done well overseas as well, and should surpass the $300 million mark any day now. Wow. This one was projected to be a flop.
Rounding out last weekend’s Top 5 at the box office was Twentieth Century Fox’s The Call of the Wild, starring Harrison Ford and an animated dog. The movie sold another $7 million, bringing its 17-day worldwide sales total to $100 million.
Also of note: Bad Boys for Life continues to fill seats, recently surpassing the $200 million mark in the U.S., making it one of the best-selling films of 2020 so far.
New this Week
Craig Zobel’s “controversial” new film, The Hunt, which was pulled from the release schedule last summer due to a media-created storyline that suggested that the film will “divide the country,” will finally see the light of day.
It’s a movie about people hunting other people, and it stars Betty Gilpin, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Glenn Howerton, and singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson.
Craig Zobel’s first two features, Great World of Sound and Compliance, are both excellent, which leaves me slightly hopeful for The Hunt. (But only slightly.)
Also out everywhere is musical drama I Still Believe and sci-fi flick Bloodshot. Both look notably mediocre to me.
Neon’s latest release, Big Time Adolescence, starring Pete Davidson and Jon Cryer, will begin to test in major markets, as will dramedy Inside the Rain, which stars the power duo of Rosie Perez and Eric Roberts.
This is it, y’all, this is dump season. Hang in there.
If I were you and I felt like going to the movies this weekend, I’d probably go to Onward, The Way Back, or The Invisible Man. All three of those films seem much, much better than this weekend’s slate of new releases. Onward, in particular, looks like a satisfying time at the movies.