Written and directed by Douglas McGrath.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette, Greta Scacchi, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cumming.
Opened: August 9, 1996 | Rated: PG
Jane Austen stories are always populated with potential scene stealing characters, and the perfectly-cast "Emma" has more than its fair share of wonderful secondary performances.
But Gwyneth Paltrow, known up to now mostly as Brad Pitt's girlfriend, has a commanding and emotional presence as Austen's charming, determined and misguided heroine who plays matchmaker to all her friends.
Emma is a meddlesome girl, and there are things one doesn't like about her (at times she's a bit of a snob). But Paltrow brings alive her joy, her pain and endears her to the audience.
From Austen's 1816 novel about a well-to-do young busybody, "Emma" is wonderfully acted by an impressive cast that includes Greta Scacchi, Juliet Stevenson, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor (proving between this film and "Trainspotting" that he has an elastic range).
The film is not perfection and one should not see it expecting another "Sense and Sensibility," but the weaknesses, like the number of major plot developments only alluded to and not seen, are outweighed by shining performances and the Oscar-worthy photography.
The employment of light and shadows in "Emma" is extraordinary. The best example is a dinner scene in which Emma is listening to her guests speak. She is framed by two candles lighting her face that draws the audience to her reactions.
And such reactions -- small, subtle facial expressions -- are the key to Paltrow's embodiment of Emma. She may get an Oscar nod as well.
"Emma" is a faithful adaptation of Austen's most cherished novel and unlike "Clueless," last year's transplant of the same story to modern day L.A., the audience has more than a passing interest in the characters here. It has an emotional stake in the outcome.
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