“EMMA.” might actually be the most British movie I’ve ever watched in my entire life, and I’m totally okay with that. If you’re not a fan of stuffy rich English people wearing colorful dresses and making snide remarks to one another at tea parties, then you should probably stay away from this one. However, if you’re a fan of visual comedy, absurd upper-class mannerisms, and the quintessential “long British pause,” then EMMA. will almost certainly appeal to you. It’s nothing groundbreaking, as one might expect from a story written 200+ years ago, but it makes up for its lack of originality with an interesting aesthetic, beautiful color palette, and great sense of humor, even if it is a bit overly long and self-indulgent.
For those who don’t already know, EMMA. is the story of one “Emma Woodhouse,” a rich, beautiful, and self-important woman who has zero interest in her own romance or marriage but takes great pride in setting up her friends and family members with their future spouses. She considers herself an expert matchmaker and has yet to be proven wrong, having just recently matched her sister with her corresponding husband, so when Emma takes a young lower-class girl named Harriet under her wing as a friend, she makes it her duty to find her a match as well. However, George Knightley, her longtime friend and only real critic, comes to question Emma’s sense of ultimate authority over romance, believing that she is abusing her power over Harriet to manipulate her into a match of her own design, rather than allowing her to choose the husband she actually wants.
This conflict between Emma and George continues to spiral as the film goes on, with Emma wanting more and more control over Harriet and influencing all of her decisions when it comes to romantic partners. After all, Emma is viewed as one of the most wealthy and influential women in the entire town, so all the other girls try to emulate her as much as possible. However, as things go on, it becomes clearer and clearer that Emma is unable to admit her own faults, digging the hole of Harriet’s romantic life deeper and deeper as she slowly comes to realize that she doesn’t know everything about everyone.
While the classism aspects of the story might seem pretty outdated by modern standards, the emotional core of the film is still strong, with the story primarily being about a character coming to recognize their own flaws. Having unlimited influence over others is a dangerous thing, especially when there’s no one around that can seriously challenge your decision-making process. Emma might appear to be a woman who is constantly self-confident, but she has her own problems just like anyone else, and when she is forced to deal with her conflicted feelings about who she is as a person, she seems almost incapable of doing so, never having been challenged in this way before. The development of her character is the main focus of the narrative, and it is very satisfying to watch, even if it feels unevenly distributed throughout the duration of the film.
In any case, the real reason to see this movie is definitely for the humor and cinematography. The whole film has this immaculate warm softness to it, similar to a Wes Anderson production, and the pastel colors work fantastically well with the old English aesthetics. The English countryside is one of my favorite places on Earth, and the greenery of the village and surrounding farmlands really hits a soft spot for me. All of the manor houses and churches feel appropriately colorful and grandiose as well, and the constant presence of well-dressed manservants everywhere never fails to make me crack a smile. All of the dialogue is also beautifully written and performed throughout. Anya Taylor-Joy is perfect in the lead role, and Mia Goth as Harriet is appropriately innocent and doe-eyed every time she’s on screen.
However, for me, the real standout performance of the film was definitely Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of visual humor and long British pauses, then this movie will almost certainly get a few loud laughs out of you, and Mr. Woodhouse is pretty much always the greatest contributing factor to those scenes. The absurd way in which he carries himself and constantly bosses around his servants about a “draft in the house” was extremely entertaining, and it’s pretty clear Bill Nighy was just having a lot of fun with the role. The movie’s sense of humor is absolutely not for everyone though, and a few of my friends seemed bored to tears throughout the entire duration of the film. However, I was raised almost entirely on British humor between Monty Python, Ricky Gervais, and Edgar Wright, so I can safely say that if you enjoy that style of comedy, you’ll probably get a kick out of this movie too.
My only real issue with this film, other than the predictable and bog-standard story, would be the pacing and overall runtime. But boy, is this a big issue. While I found most of EMMA. to be perfectly engaging, whether through its witty English banter or visual flair, it definitely started to drag its feet near the end, especially during the middle of the 3rd act. I seriously don’t remember the last time I thought a movie was going to end at so many different instances before continuing to carry on, over and over, to the point where it felt like I was watching something like Return of the King or the Dark Knight. However, unlike those movies, which can get away with stretching their runtimes out through constant action scenes, EMMA. is just a movie about posh members of high society arguing over who will marry who, and it starts to lose its charm after watching the same characters quarrel with one another over and over again. Especially when you have a pretty good idea on how it’s going to end anyway.
However, despite its predictable story and serious pacing problems near the end of the movie, EMMA. is still a very entertaining film and a visual breath of fresh air from all the dark, muted, gritty colors we’ve been seeing in recent big-budget movies. It’s an extremely British film and if you don’t like that style of humor then you will definitely feel every single second scraping by, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed about 80% of its runtime before the movie started feeling old and repetitive. With a few cuts to unnecessary scenes and a greater emphasis on meaningful character interactions rather than day-to-day life stuff, I think EMMA. could have easily been an early favorite of mine this year. Instead, it remains a perfectly serviceable and entertaining film with a great sense of style hampered by an overly long runtime. Tailor your expectations accordingly going in and you’ll probably have a good time too.
7/10 – Good