Sunday, May 07, 2006

Movie Review: Emma

Hubs and DS#2 are away this weekend on a Boy Scout Camporee. And that means... Chick Flicks!

The girls have, of course, different ideas about Chick Flicks than me. DD#2 thinks that it means Harry Potter, especially the last two. (Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that the cast is getting older? Nah...) DD#1 will watch period pieces with me, but mostly out of curiosity. She wasn't home when I chose Emma, so she didn't have a vote.

If you've seen Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, you know the plotline for Emma. Beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, and good-hearted, Emma Woodhouse, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, tries to make good marital matches for her friends and acquaintances. She, however, is content to live with her father, a fussbudget of a man who also loves his daughter dearly.

The movie begins at the wedding of Emma's former governess, Mrs. Weston (Greta Scacchi), whose marriage Emma feels she helped arrange. Also at the party is Mr. Knightley, the younger brother of Emma's brother-in-law. Mr. Knightley has known Emma most of her life and, because of his relationship, is considered family.

Emma's particular friend is Miss Harriet Smith, played by Toni Collette (who played the mother of Marcus in About A Boy, opposite Hugh Grant who starred with Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility.) Nothing is known about Miss Smith's family, as she was raised under the guardianship of Mrs. Goddard. Emma decides to make Harriet her project. Although Harriet has received a proposal from Mr. Martin, Emma deems the earnest young farmer too low for Harriet and encourages her to set her sights on Mr. Elton, the local vicar.

Mr. Elton misreads Emma's intentions and, instead of proposing to Harriet, proposes to her. Emma, caught completely unaware, refuses him and he huffs off. Fortunately, another man appears and, although he catches the fancy of Emma herself, she soon realizes that he is shallow and vain. However, under the influence of his society, Emma says some terribly cruel things to Miss Bates, a long-time family friend who has fallen on difficult times. (Miss Bates is played by Sophie Thompson and her mother is played by Phyllida Law, her mother in real life. Ms. Thompson is the sister of Emma Thompson--who starred in Sense and Sensibility and who helped write parts of the screen play for Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly. Ms. Law is, of course, her mother as well.) Mr. Knightley chastises Emma for her bad behavior, saying that he expects more and better from her.

Emma takes his words to heart and tries to make amends. In the meantime, Mr. Elton returns with his new wife and Miss Smith becomes infatuated with Mr. Knightley, who, seeing her snubbed by Mr. Elton at a ball, asks her to dance and pays attention to her the rest of the evening. When Miss Smith confides her feelings for Mr. Knightley to Emma, Emma is surprised to find that she loves Mr. Knightley--and not just as a brother.

But what can she do?

There is, of course, the wonderful wordplay and dialogue I've come to expect from Jane Austen's writing, the absurd characters who don't realize how absurd they are, the intelligent, headstrong female lead who leaps before she looks, the male lead who loves her because of her intelligence and impulsiveness. Though written two hundred years ago, and though the courtship rituals have changed, the dance between men and women hasn't changed much since Miss Austen's day. And there's something romantic about men and women who, while they operate under strict rules of conduct, manage to make their feelings known to each other and who don't rush to bed--or even kiss--at the first opportunity.

The women also seem to have a great deal more independence than we would think. These women go for long walks, together or alone, and are seldom bothered. They are expected to be able to sew, draw, play an instrument, sing, dance (and the dances are complicated set pieces, much like square dances without the calls), and manage a household--including the budget. I think we modern women often misunderstand and underestimate our sisters from that era. They were much more resourceful and accomplished than they are credited.

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets.