I’m not one for Jane Austen romance novels-to-screen (wait, does Pride & Prejudice & Zombies count?), but when I saw the trailer for this film, I was intrigued by the comedy, direction, and acting. Hmmm… so I thought that I’ll give this movie a shot. And I’m happy to tellya, I’m glad I did.
Set in the 1800’s quaint English township of rolling green hills and spawning estates of the super-rich who can’t dress themselves, we are introduced to Miss Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), a single girl of 21 who, besides having sense & sensibility, is considered wise, empowered, and everyone’s go-to person for advice. Everyone, that is, except the brash and single George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who verbally spars with her on almost every point. Waddaya guess these two are gonna hook up later?
Anyway, Emma has taken it upon herself to befriend and educate the naive young Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), and the two become inseparable. Ah, but love is in the air, and Harriet has caught the eye of the rather odd local vicar, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor). But also vying for Harriet’s affections is the handsome farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells). Seeking her sage advice, Harriet naturally turns to Emma who, having pride and prejudice, tells Harriet what she needs to do. But things don’t work out exactly the way Emma sees it coming. In fact, things get even crazier with the arrival of two new players in the area.
Emma’s doppelganger swings into town; Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), who is better at piano, fashion, and getting a man than Emma. And it looks like she might have snagged the newest, most eligible bachelor in town, Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), who is not only rich and handsome, but… well, who cares! However, the tables are abruptly turned when Frank suddenly goes for Emma, and not Jane. By the second & third act’s it seems that everyone is dating or seeing someone else at one time or another, so much so, it gets confusing as to who is in love (or just ‘like’) with whom. People in this era switch lovers as quickly as they switch leggings! Geez, that must get exhausting!
Emma, ever the alabaster-skinned and almond-eyes beauty that she is, learns a valuable lesson in meddling in the affairs of others, as she is taken down a few pegs by the close of the film. This was the final novel by Jane Austen, adapted for the screen by first-time writer Eleanor Catton. Having never written a screenplay before, Eleanor obviously didn’t know the basic structure of your three-act script. Instead, she took the novel, chopped the scenarios into small bite-sized scenes (like short little SNL skits), and then spliced them all together into this screenplay. Needless to say, what you’re left with is a film that moves in starts ‘n’ stops; each scene playing out, stopping, then a new scene starts that may or may not tie in to the last scene. Result? There is no natural flow to the movie.
First time director, Autumn deWilde, has only done short music videos, but nonetheless, does a rather nice job on the crafting of this 18th Century love story. She has an eye for where to put the camera, lighting, and wringing the emotion from the scene. Plus, you have to stop and admire that cinematography, set design, and costuming! Gorgeous! While it’s not a gut-busting LOL comedy, (although sometimes that soundtrack would lead to believe otherwise), it does have its comedic moments, thanks to Taylor-Joy’s spot-on acting. She carries this role with grace and elegance, avoiding the pitfalls of cliched archetypes. She keeps it real. Mia Goth as the giddy Harriet plays the perfect friend for Emma, a performance laced with nuance and subtly.
The guys are all pretty much just good-looking window dressing. Josh O’Connor is a delightfully off-kilter vicar, Bill Nighy as Emma’s doddering old father (who hardly speaks) is funny just with his gestures alone, and Johnny Flynn who, late in act two, really showcases his acting chops as he lets down his veneer of charm and manners. And I must give credit to the two silent servants that work for the Woodhouses. They never said a word, but they were very amusing in their confusion.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Based on Christopher Hampton’s award winning stage play, there have been a few movie adaptions, however this particular film version won a slew of Academy & Bafta Awards, so I chose this film for the review. Plus, the acting alone is was worth the watching! If you get a chance, rent or stream this one!
It’s Paris in the 18th Century with everyone wearing powered wigs, duels at day break, lavish & ornate homes, and the filthy rich being SO bored they bet each other to see who can destroy another person’s life! Glenn Close plays the rich, pompous, narcissistic, and overly-indulged Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil who, bored with her spoiled life, decides to have some fun. She makes a bet with her old lover, the unprincipled & devious Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) to seek out and seduce the young and innocent virgin, Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), who is engaged to the clueless Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny (Keanu Reeves).
IF Valmont wins the bet, he gets to bed Merteuil, something he’s been aching to do for quite some time. But there’s a problem: Valmont has already planned to seduce the lovely Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), and let’s face it, who wouldn’t? Amused at the idea of trying to seduce TWO women at once, Valmont accepts this crazy challenge. Looks like he better up his dosage of Nugenix, huh? Through sheer cunning and mastery of his perverted art, Valmont manages to not only get the timid and repressed Cecile into bed, but also drives Madame de Tourvel mad with love for him. Boy, this guy is GOOD.
Seeing that her bet is slowly falling apart, Merteuil tries her best to sabotage Valmont’s plans, but he manages to skirt around each hurdle she throws out with devious ease. The bet is soon won, but it comes at a terrible price as all that Valmont has accomplished comes to a tragic, horrible end for everyone involved. The incredibly rich playing around with other peoples lives for the sake of amusement takes its toll on all in this sumptuous eye-candy of a movie.
Hampton adapted his own play into the screenplay (and won Best Adapted Screenplay, btw), while director Stephen Frears was robbed of his Best Director nomination. Well, at least Glenn Close & Michelle Pfeiffer got their well deserved nom’s for Best Actress (Close) and Best Supporting Actress (Pfeiffer). Neither won, however. Sad emoji. Still, the movie is a sumptuous feast for the eyes with beautiful set design, rich production values, incredible period costuming, and the cinematography is outstanding.
Match that with the accomplished and seasoned performances of some truly gifted actors and, well, what’s not to like? If there’s a flaw in this movie its young Keanu Reeves. A year later Keanu would strike cinematic gold in his (then) signature role of Ted Theodore Logan of the infinitely fun Bill & Ted movies. His small role here, however, is woefully miscast as the young French (??) suitor who not only woos both Close and Thurman, but duels Malkovich! As Ted would say, “Whoa!!”