‘Emma.’ is a Refreshing Reboot of a Flirty Classic

Image: Universal

Whether you’re a fan of Clueless or Jane Austen’s classic, this year’s Emma. is the romantic comedy to see. Hate-to-love romances have offered some of the finest couples in film, and this edition adds perfectly to the collection. Resident scream queen Anya Taylor-Joy is crowned queen socialite in the latest Emma adaptation, director Autumn de Wilde’s feature debut. This film is sure to garner fans for De Wilde, whose fashionable update only contributes to the legacy of the story.

Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) hasn’t had to worry a day in her life; a title card presents us with this information before we even get to meet our protagonist. Always well equipped with a cunning smirk and some biting sarcasm, Taylor-Joy’s Emma is the carefree cool girl at her best. This isn’t quite a slice-of-life story, but it’s also not particularly story-driven: Emma. finds the sweet spot between daily battles, gossip, and romance. 

There are a few things that set this version apart from its predecessors. While the past Emma’s have had no shortage of fantastic leading girls — see Gwyneth Paltrow’s classic take  in the 1996 version, and Alicia Silverstone’s twist on the role in Clueless — Taylor-Joy adds a vibrant, youthful flair while staying true to the classics. We’ve seen Taylor-Joy in darker, grittier roles, like her break-out in The VVitch and her creepier schoolgirl roles in Split, Glass, and Thoroughbreds. Though, with Emma., she departs from her traditional scream queen roles. Here she is, in all her sophisticated socialite glory, proving her talent lies outside of just one genre.

Christopher Blauvelt (First Cow, Mid-90s) nails the bright pastels in his cinematography. There’s an image of Emma eating a strawberry that’s already been circulating; within the context of this scene, this shot is delectable. Even the static season title cards are memorable — everything is placed in its exquisite place. The costumes are along the same lines of brilliance, but their extravagance is truly in the spotlight. As Emma slips into her dresses and ballet-tie shoes, it’s as if we can feel the smooth fabric against our own skin. Her headpiece ruffles in the wind as she rides home in a carriage, ringlet curls blowing beside. It’s hard not to feel envious of the bright fabrics and fanciful styles.

This rendition of the classic also nails one huge aspect of the original: the father/daughter relationship. More than any couple of the film, Bill Nighy and Taylor-Joy share unmatched chemistry that ends up as the backbone of the film. Nighy, as always, adds quirky dry humor. The pair argue, make snide remarks at weddings, and share evening reading sessions — it’s quite clear how much they need one another. This is the most underrated love story of the film. 

The others, however, drag the film down at times. The subplot of Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) plays to no effect. Though Mia Goth delivers a top-notch annoying performance as Harriet Smith, her subplot is so underdone that her romantic interest doesn’t even have a single line in the film. The main romance, between Emma and her drag of a friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), carries all of the touching romantic bits of the film. The tension between them, which is just classically entertaining, is so good, it makes up for the lacking subplots. 

Emma. may not add anything new of substance to the consistent remakes, but it’s certainly worth the watch. Similar to the likes of Romeo and Juliet, Jane Austen’s original tale is one that can be told again and again without growing stale, and this new version is no different. Emma’s romantic antics will seduce audiences while leaving them giddy enough to rewatch Clueless. Though this may be yet another Emma reboot in a sea of many, can there ever be too many?

Emma. is in cinemas now

by Fletcher Peters

Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Fletcher (she/her) is now living in New York studying towards a BA in Cinema Studies. She loves crossword puzzles, low-budget off-off Broadway shows, and when she’s at home, annoying her cats. Her favorite films include Rear Window, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. She’s also a fan of everything Star Wars related. You can find her on TwitterLetterboxd, and Instagram.

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