EMMA (Cinemas)


* * * 1/2

Why do we need a new Emma? You may ask the same of Hamlet. Emma is (controversial opinion here perhaps) Jane Austen’s most intriguing heroine, and it’s worth seeing what new generations of actresses may bring to the role (as it has proved worthwhile seeing a new ensemble take charge of a Little Women for the 21st Century).

This one – directed by feature debut director Autumn de Wilde – is heavy on a highly specific design choice, and will be known henceforth as “the pastel one”: every outfit, chair, curtain and wall is of a pastel shade, each contributing to the overwhelming – but very delightful – sense of the whole movie being constructed as a sweet slice of cake, which, when you think about it, is a perfectly fair approach and metaphor for how Austen’s stories can be enjoyed (which is not to say other directorial approaches cannot emphasise darker qualities).

But beyond the intensity of the clear style choice, it is Anya Taylor-Joy who justifies this new adaptation’s existence. She is sublime, reason enough to mount a new film, as, say, Jude Law was enough for there to be a new Hamlet on the West End in 2009. Her Emma is as devious, misguided and occasionally sheerly unlikeable as Austen’s is on the page, but her underlying likability enables Emma’s redemption to not only be consumable, but go down as sweetly as the cupcake wallpaper. Taylor-Joy, blessed with one of those deployable cinematic faces that is almost all eyes, is perfect for period pictures; the straighter she stands, the more corseted she is, the more she can gain from a glance, a look, a stare, and in this Emma, it is stolen glances that carry more weight than, at times, even the sparkling words. A delight.

HORSE GIRL (Netflix original movie)

horse girl.png

* * *

Mental illness as the engine for a thriller is a cultural conceit whose days are numbered, but, as a last gasp, there’s no denying this entry is compelling and evocative. Alison Brie, who co-wrote the screenplay, is excellent as a young woman whose mental health begins to unravel toward the end of the first act. The second act is very strong, and Brie’s performance borders on sensational; overall, however, the film is rather shallow, entirely predictable on a story level but happily surprising on an execution one.

Sleeping With Other People

sleeping-with-other-people-poster*** (out of five)

RomComs really haven’t changed much since the 30s. Horror films have, action films certainly have, drama has evolved in a million directions, and myriad sub-genres exist in all those forms – but RomComs still follow a template set by Bringing Up Baby and its ilk. Even the settings exhibit little variance; why set one in, say, Dubrovnik when you can set it in New York?

Sleeping With Other People, the second feature directed by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), does what modern RomComs do in order to feel fresh: it allows sex into the equation. When Doris Day ruled the format in the 50s and 60s, there was no real need for any external conflict keeping the leads apart outside of the desire of the female to maintain her virginity (which was inherently implied) until the final reel. She had to decide she liked the guy enough to have sex with him; he had to convince her to marry him, so he could bonk her. That was all you needed.

Now, we assume our heroine has had sex before she’s met our hero. Sleeping With Other People takes this concept and front-loads it, making them both sex addicts; this frees it up to then continue down an extremely familiar path. You see it all coming a mile away, as you do with every damn RomCom.

What we’re left with, then, to get us through, is dialogue, which is generally sparkling, and chemistry, which is massive: Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell on Mad Men) and Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses) have it in spades. All of their scenes (except the shmaltzy ones, of which there are a couple too many) are funny and warm, and their dialogue, cascading from both their mouths so naturally that it feels improvised (and may well have been at any given moment), is sometimes as off-beat as real life. They are both excellent, and deserved a movie just a little bit bolder than this one, which, to its discredit, remains shackled to a template that could seriously use an update. Jason Mantzoukas, Natasha Lyonne and Amanda Peet do their usual party tricks, but Adam Scott, in a small role, does something new, and every scene he’s in is a breath of fresh air. The whole thing is horribly conventional while still being charming and relatively entertaining, which, unfortunately, makes it way above average in this rusting, snoozing genre.