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Emma. is Autumn de Wilde's feature film directorial debut, as well as Eleanor Catton's screenwriting debut. I never watched any previous adaptations and period movies aren't exactly "my thing". This doesn't mean I can't appreciate them! The Favourite and Little Women are the most recent examples of films belonging to said genre that I absolutely love. The main reason why I felt the need to watch this adaptation was Anya Taylor-Joy's first time as the sole protagonist.
I genuinely believe she'll become one of the greatest actresses of her generation, along Florence Pugh, Chloë Grace Moretz, Hailee Steinfeld, Kaitlyn Dever, Saoirse Ronan, and a few others. Her performance in this movie is yet another argument to validate my prediction. She's phenomenal as Emma! It took me a while to get used to her voice since she applies a much higher tone than her usual one. Seeing actors doing different accents is pretty common, but changing their voice as Anya does, even if it's a simple modification, it still shows how committed she was to her role.
As cliche as it might sound, she carries the whole story on her shoulders. She's the link that connects all storylines and characters. Without her, the film doesn't work, so her display had to be near-perfect. Anya demonstrates her range and emotional ability, as well as a seamless control of the complex and rich script. Most dialogues possess long sentences with sophisticated vocabulary, something only the best actors can deal with effortlessly.
Anya shines, but her character does too. Emma's arc is quite interesting. Besides being "handsome, clever and rich", she has no respect for the poor, manipulates her friend's romantic decisions, and sometimes acts in a very selfish, arrogant manner. Her transformation into a better person is the most captivating arc of the screenplay, but it also demonstrates my main issue with the movie as a whole. Ten minutes in, and I knew everything that was going to happen.
Now, I always try to avoid thinking too much ahead. But when it comes to relationships between characters, it's all so predictable and obvious to me that I can't help but guess the whole story. The same screenplay trick is used throughout to twist certain relationships, becoming repetitive and a bit dull. I never felt truly invested in the film until the one-hour mark. It's mostly well-paced, but when nothing is surprising, innovative, or creative regarding the overall narrative, there's not that much that can keep me captivated.
The first act is a tad confusing, with too many characters getting introduced too fast. Honestly, I just discovered while writing this review that a secondary character is supposed to be blood-related to one of the main ones. Story and characters are the two pillars of any movie. I've always written this. If these two don't work, then everything else crumbles. It's far from collapsing, it's actually very well-structured, but it's like these two pillars are just like thousands of others. There's no distinct characteristic that makes these unique.
Weirdly enough, I never felt bored. The cast really does a nice job of keeping me entertained by every remarkable performance. Bill Nighy (Mr. Woodhouse) and Miranda Hart (Miss Bates) are quite funny. The costume design is gorgeous besides being extremely important since it actually elevates the story by clearly identifying who's rich and poor. Production and set design are fantastic. Great cinematography (Christopher Blauvelt), and an enjoyable score (Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer). Nevertheless, as outstanding as the technical achievements might be, the film still lacks a unique directing style, which is normal, having in mind it's the director's first feature.
All in all, Emma. doesn't reach the latest period movies' level like The Favourite or Little Women, but it's a fine start for debutants director Autumn de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers an exceptional performance as a very well-written Emma Woodhouse, carrying the film on her shoulders until the very end, cementing her place in Hollywood as one of the greatest actresses of her generation. The rest of the cast is also pretty great. The costume design steals the "technical show", but the production level in this movie is impressive. However, the narrative lacks surprising elements, making the existence of this new adaptation a bit questionable. Why make another film if there's nothing unique about it? Predictable from the get-go, confusing first act, and very hard to feel invested before the one-hour mark. If you enjoy period comedy-dramas, I recommend it. Otherwise, the two movies mentioned above are probably a better choice...