Having your directorial debut with a film that is based on a classic, well-known book written by a distinguished author like Jane Austen can be quite a hurdle. With Emma (also stylised as Emma. with the period) first-timer Autumn de Wilde faces this obstacle and as most would do, sticks pretty closely to the source material to both good and bad. Good in the sense that the outcome is very stylish, elegant and charming but little bit bad because it does sacrifice personality along the way.
What struck me most about the film was the unexpected humor and willingness to have a laugh about the ridiculousness that does follow period (see the period in the name) dramas. The dialogue that sometimes can feel a bit tedious was actually pretty often spiced up with jokes and goofs to extent that it was a real joy to watch actors play off of each other in those scenes. And of those actors the main star here is Anya Taylor-Joy who does a lovely job portraying Emma, especially with her facial expressions in the oh-so-many close-up shots. She is supported by very solid backing line, though where from Josh O’Connor (Mr. Elton) really stands out due to playing his part with just enough flamboyance. When it comes to costume dramas there are expectations about the artistic side and Emma has a lot going on for it in hairstyling and hat designs, even making me really focus on them for the whole runtime.
Very little risks are taken with the movie which does make it a bit bland, at times even losing all personality or memorability. Even the pastel colors utilised turn out to be lifeless to look at, making a big part of the cinematography and art direction feel more like a technical thing rather than something meaningful. Emma just feels so incredibly safe that it didn’t give me any sort of idea what de Wilde’s handprint looks like and it’s reflected also in the score which came off just as by-the-numbers. There is something left on the table with Emma, though it’s hard to say if that is because of budgetary restrictions or lack of bravery (either personally or from the studio) from de Wilde.
Smileys: Sense of humor, hairstyling, Anya Taylor-Joy, Josh O’Connor
Frowneys: Lack of personality, coloring
To be fair, the film does leave you with a good feeling.