Emma (1996)



O! The plight of wealthy twentysomethings in England at the beginning of the 19th century.

Such is the rather large pill you are supposed to swallow if you truly want to enjoy Emma, the latest in the incessant parade of increasingly bad adaptations of so-called ‘classic’ novels.

Emma is the second time in about a year that Jane Austen’s book of the same name has been adapted. The last time was the clueless Clueless, and it’d be hard for me to decide which one is worse. At least Clueless was supposed to be a joke. Emma has all the misplaced seriousness of a documentary on genital warts.

Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a flighty little matchmaker, never seeking her own marital happiness, but delighting in that of others. The first half hour of Emma shows us her matchmaking attempts with friend Miss Smith (Toni Collette). As no other plot lines are developed in 30 minutes, I thought it safe to assume this was what the movie was going to be about. No such luck, because in the second half hour, a parade of 15 or 20 or 8 billion supporting characters waltzes through the scenes. Each is called Mister or Miss or Mrs. Something, and each of them looks and acts exactly the same (obnoxious). (I defy you to tell the difference at all between Polly Walker’s character and Greta Scacchi’s.) It’s a shame that great acting talents like the above, Ewan McGregor, Alan Cummings, Jeremy Northam, and Juliet Stevenson are all pretty much wasted.

Anyway, Emma finds herself in quite the predicament when she finds her matchmaking blowing up in her face and realizes she herself is falling for various supporting characters. (Oh, my!) The problem with all of this is that, to a one, all of the characters are loathsome. Combined with the overacting that generally comes along with period flicks like this, you come up with a long-as-sin, pointless film.

Then again, Emma has a couple of charms, notably some nice scenery, upon which are placed hordes of actresses in those horrid Coke bottle-shaped dresses that made fashion victims out of a generation of Britons. And the credits aren’t too bad.

Final note: Why is it called Emma when everyone refers to her as Miss Woodhouse? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Want to see Roger Ebert’s quote of this review? CLICK HERE!

Behind the scenes on the set of Emma: Paltrow and Northam take shots at the director.