Miramax // 1996 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // October 23rd, 1999
Dreadfully clever rich white Victorian people saying dreadfully clever things until everyone lives happily ever after.
Since my last review was one of the Guy-est of guy flicks, I figured I shoot next for one of the Chick-est of chick flicks. I should admit up front that I'd give a 98 to a two-hour still image of Gwyneth Paltrow, our main character in this case, something that should be borne in mind. But, though this is a little softer than my usual fare, I have to admit that I fell into it easily and enjoyed it quite a bit.
This film is the story of the well born Emma Woodhouse, played, as mentioned above, by Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love, Great Expectations, Hush.) Emma is a degenerate match maker who cannot stop herself from trying to get all of her friends together; but, who finds herself all alone. The plot is based lightly on a Jane Austen novel.
The story begins with a wedding of Mrs. Weston, played by Greta Scacchi (The Player, Macbeth), Emma's chief co-conspirator in the matchmaking arts. Now that Mrs.Weston is busy at home, Emma needs a new challenge to keep herself going, and so decides to try to set up her less fortunate friend, Harriet Smith, who is played by Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, The Pallbearer, Velvet Goldmine.) She decides that the lucky victim will be the young Vicor, Mr. Elton, played by Allan Cumming (Spice World, GoldenEye, Eyes Wide Shut), and proceeds to manipulate the naïve Harriet to this end.
She convinces Harriet that marriage is inevitable and things seem to be going well, only to have Mr. Elton finally express his love for Emma instead. He mistook Emma's attempts to get Harriet through the door as attempts to flirt with him. After Mr. Elton's balloon is soundly popped, he goes off to the spa to scope the rich babes since his true love isn't in the stars. Might as well get some bucks out of the deal if you can't get your first choice, right?
The remainder of the film is concerned with the continued misadventures of Emma. She's temporarily infatuated with a slick talking scoundrel, Frank Churchill, played by Ewan McGregor (Velvet Goldmine, A Life Less Ordinary, Trainspotting) but soon sees through his rather shallow waters. Eventually she discovers that her long time family friend, Mr. Knightly, played by Jeremy Northam (Mimic, Amistad) is actually the man she's been looking for all along; but, she believes that he is now actually in love with Harriet, due to her own efforts. Of course in this type of light romantic comedy, everyone does live happily ever after.
The action (well, loosely speaking) takes place in what I would assume to be Victorian era England, so the speech is florid, the rich are rich, the poor are poor, and no day is complete without a little Grey Poupon and Day Sausage on the veranda or by the lake. The interiors are sumptuous color feasts of complex fabrics and tapestries. The exteriors are often pretty awe inspiringly beautiful English countrysides that fit the story perfectly.
I was bummed to see that this film is non-anamorphic. These types of period pieces should be anamorphic by law due to the high level of color and detail in the rich interiors. I use a Faroudja DVP-2200, which digitally enhances letterboxed DVDs. Quality non-anamorphic transfers look exceedingly close to anamorphic quality thusly enhanced. This transfer is not of the highest quality, since it came out slightly soft, but it was far from distracting on my setup, without obvious noise or artifacts.
And, adding insult to injury, it has only a Dolby Surround audio track and one measly extra, a theatrical trailer. Oh well, what can we do?
Given the somewhat florid Victorian speech, if you are the kind of person has never understood a word that Kenneth Branagh has spoken on film, you might have a little trouble following it. I seem to follow this kind of speech pretty well, though occasionally my memory system gets overwhelmed by one too many nested parenthetical phrases.
After all these chick flick reviews, I'm probably going to have review a high kill ratio disc the next time, in order to redeem my manhood. But, I have to be honest, I personally would prefer Emma to either a truck pull or some of the mindless action flicks I've seen. Then again, as I've said, I could watch a multi-part documentary about any small part of Gwyneth's person.
Definitely the ladies will like this one, assuming that they all haven't secretly gotten together and watched it already. But we'd have seen a spike in Kleenex stock if that had happened I guess. Guys, if you want to prove your devotion and/or get her in a lovin' way, you could certainly do worse than seeing this one together.
I have to acquit this one, despite the fact that it might get me kicked out of the secret Brotherhood of Manly Men. To be honest, I haven't paid my dues lately anyway. If you are a fan of Jane Austenesque romantic period pieces, or like me a fool for little Ms. Paltrow, you'll want to check this one out.
[Editor's Note: Eagle-eyed reader "Mercutio" pointed out not just a grievous spelling error in the review six years after it was posted, but also that Judge Roddey incorrectly identified the era in which Emma is set as Victorian England; the era is more accurately identified as Regency. Thanks for keeping us on our toes.]
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer