"Emma" is an absolute joy. Or perhaps I should say an Anya Taylor-Joy.
This latest adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is a lavishly looking film anchored by Joy's sharply precise work as the title character.
That character is Emma Woodhouse, a young socialite in England in the 1800s who has sworn off love for herself - although it hasn't stopped her from playing matchmaker among family and friends.
Her latest "project" is Harriet (Mia Goth), a well-meaning, awkward young girl at a boarding school who is smitten with a local farmer (Connor Swindells), but Emma is convinced is better matched for either the prominent Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor) or the mysterious Frank Churchill (Callum Turner).
Emma's well-meaning plans quickly go awry, as she discovers the more she tries to make a match the more she makes a mess of things. Her failures provided plenty of entertainment for long time acquaintance Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who perhaps knows Emma better than she knows herself.
Anyone familiar with Austen's work - whether it is reading her novels or seeing the multitude of films that have adapted her work will know what's coming here. We've seen "Emma" in many incarnations, including two films released close together - a more straight forward adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow and the more modern "Clueless" with Alicia Silverstone. While this "Emma" is straight forward, like "Clueless" it proves to be much more relatable to contemporary audiences (Emma certainly feels like she could fit right in with the way social media acceptance shapes people's lives and relationships). It's a credit to director Autumn de Wilde and screen writer Eleanor Catton that they find a way to give this a modern spin while staying true to the source material.
de Wilde also brings a visual flair, with the set design and cinematography full of pastel colors that accentuate the cheeriness of this material.
Goth conveys Harriet's awkwardness quite well, while Flynn proves to be solid as Emma's worthy adversary. There's also a few fun moments with Bill Nighy as Emma's father.
But the success of this update all comes back to Joy. The 23-year-old actress has built a resume built around some dark work - "Split," "The Witch," and "Thoroughbreds" to name a few. In "Emma" we get to see a lighter side of Joy - which is a welcomed change of pace. Joy shows she has delightful comic touch and can hold her own in material that doesn't always seem life or death.
Joy's charming work is fresh and exciting, giving "Emma" it's much needed jolt that sets it apart from other Austen adaptations.