Emma. (2020)

I’m on holiday in New Zealand this week. I’m not exactly sure what’s coming out in cinemas here (it’s not a priority right now) and I don’t want to be sad about what I’m missing out on in London (I think Portrait of a Lady on Fire is out, and if it is, go see it). However next weekend I am going to a wedding, so I am doing a themed week about relationship movies, not all of them about weddings or romances, but I’ll try to fit in a few. Luckily, just about half of all popular culture is about romantic entanglements, so there should be plenty of pick from. First up is this film, the sad yet comical story of a matchmaker.


One wonders sometimes at the need to remake certain films. Clueless (1995) is such an enduring classic that it feels odd to have this updated version, which for reasons best known to the makers they’ve relocated to England in the 19th century. However, I have to admit it’s been 25 years since that previous film, so perhaps the time is ripe, and there is a very picturesque quality to these locations (almost too pastel-coloured at times, though captured with gorgeous clarity by Kelly Reichardt’s regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt).

One of the sad losses due to the change of setting is in some of the diversity of the cast: there are no gay characters, and all the principals (in fact, all of everyone) remain very firmly white. However, I can’t pretend there isn’t some joy to be had in the dialogue and the characters, all the same. It’s reaching for a Love & Friendship vibe, and the actors are all very capable at finding the comic potential (not just the noted comedic actors like Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy, but Josh O’Connor as the insufferable Elton, and of course Anya Taylor-Joy as the almost alien-looking title character, whose self-regarding exceptionalism seems to exude from her throughout the film).

For all that the title emphasises a certain finality of execution with its full stop, I do still think the canonical version of this text has already been made. However, this is a pleasant divertissement with little digs at the absurdities of class distinctions, and at Emma’s haughty attitudes. Also, as with every Austen adaptation, the dance sequences are expertly choreographed.

Emma film posterCREDITS
Director Autumn de Wilde; Writer Eleanor Catton (based on the novel by Jane Austen); Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt; Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor, Miranda Hart; Length 124 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Victoria, London, Monday 17 February 2019.

Song One (2014)

There’s no doubt in my mind that where and how you watch a film can materially affect one’s appreciation of it, whether at the cinema or at home, with a large or small audience, a receptive or a hostile audience, in a community centre, a church or in a foreign country: all kinds of factors can weigh in. For me, a good film to watch on an inflight entertainment system can be markedly different from what I’d choose on land. I’ve enjoyed some pretty questionable movies when miles up in the sky, quite often fluffy romcoms. And while it may not fall into that generic category, I’m not convinced that seeing Song One on terra firma would improve my estimation of it. It shares elements with the altogether glossier and bigger budget Begin Again, overlaid with an illness framework — in this case, that anthropologist Franny’s (Anne Hathaway’s) brother has been hit by a car and is in intensive care. She comes from Morocco to be by his bedside with their mother Karen (Mary Steenburgen), and from there falls into the company of his favourite musician James (Johnny Flynn), who plays the same kind of folky indie rock that Begin Again dabbled in. Sadly Johnny Flynn is no Mark Ruffalo, nor even Adam Levine, and doesn’t exactly radiate screen charisma, though I daresay that’s the point. Hathaway is always watchable, and there’s an admirable improvised feel to the scenes — certainly, it seems there are a lot of children of Joe Swanberg around in the US independent cinema at the moment. Franny’s quest to use her ethnographical skills to record the world in all its sensory nature and bring it to her brother’s bedside has some of the same obsessiveness that Ruffalo’s character deployed as a producer in Begin Again, and at times threatens to tip into unbearably twee (there are gramophones and vintage keyboards!), yet somehow it’s grounded by Steenburgen’s performance as a liberal, free-spirited mother with a penchant for Paris in the 70s. I could talk myself out of liking it pretty easily, but somehow it worked for me. At least, when I was in the air above Europe desperately looking forward to returning to the comfort of home. The poster says “a moment can change everything”, but a venue can change a film.

Song One film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Kate Barker-Froyland; Cinematographer John Guleserian; Starring Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen; Length 86 minutes.
Seen on a plane from Istanbul to London, Wednesday 9 September 2015.