I rarely, if ever, get truly bored at movies. While some naturally hold my attention more than others, the thought of turning off the TV, falling asleep in the theater, or otherwise ignoring what’s happening on the screen seldom crosses my mind.
Thirty minutes into Emma., however, I was checking my phone to see how long the movie was. 45 minutes in, I was ever so grateful to have a full row to myself, so my scrolling through Twitter wouldn’t distract anyone. An hour in I was cursing (albeit silently) whoever decided it was necessary to play a full 24 minutes of trailers before the movie—otherwise we could have been 24 minutes closer to the end of the movie. Ninety minutes in, I was wondering who the heck decided that feature films needed to be two hours and not ninety minutes.
And when it ended, I’m kinda-sorta-but-not-really ashamed to say, I did not stay for the credits.
A brief recap of the story, in case you’re not familiar with this particular Jane Austen tale: Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an eminently eligible young woman who lives with her elderly father (Bill Nighy) and delights in matchmaking her friends, a hobby her father cautions her against. She brushes off his concerns flippantly, only saying she won’t match herself with anyone.
As with any Jane Austen story, there are several love triangles, more than a few misunderstandings, multiple professions of love—requited and otherwise—a number of stubborn characters, and ultimately, a few weddings.
Emma.is a very pleasant movie to look at. The costumes and sets are lavish, the kind of costumes and sets that often contend for awards. The acting is fine—nothing to write home about, but nothing to cringe at, either. The score, however, couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was in a period drama or a Celtic folk tale, an indicator of where I think the real problem of the film lies: it is simply too self-conscious for its own good.
In many ways, Jane Austen’s trademark quick-witted and fast-paced dialogue seems to be the 18th century prose equivalent of Aaron Sorkin. The challenge, however, is that Austen wrote novels, not screenplays, so her snappy dialogue and ironic commentary on social issues must needs be adapted for the screen. Though I’m no Austen aficionado, Emma Thompson’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is near perfection when it comes to book-to-screen adaptations, Austen or otherwise, hitting all the notes Emma. misses.
While Thompson crafted an earnest, heartfelt script that let the actors and story shine, the screenplay for Emma.insists on inserting itself into the viewing experience, waving its hand as if to say, “I’m here, look at me!”
In the end, I left wondering what the point was. Was Emma. intended to be a period drama? A comedy? A satire? A farce?
I’m not sure it even knows.