Review: ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ starring Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Hadley Robinson, James Wolk, Peter Guinness and Chris Diamantopoulos

December 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Callum Turner and Jack Mulhern in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1936, in the United States and in Germany, the dramatic film “The Boys in the Boat” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Against the odds, the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team becomes a winning team in the United States, and competes in the 1936 Olympics against the Nazi German team that is expected to win the gold medal. 

Culture Audience: “The Boys in the Boat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker George Clooney and old-fashioned sports movies that are conventional to a fault.

Chris Diamantopoulos, James Wolk, Joel Edgerton and Dominic Tighe in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat” is the cinematic equivalent of stale and lukewarm comfort food for people who like formulaic underdog sports movies with no surprises. The acting performances are competent, but the screenplay and direction have too many dull clichés. Even if you didn’t know the true story on which this movie is based, it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end within the first 15 minutes of watching the film.

Directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, “The Boys in the Boat” is based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The movie waters down, oversimplifies, and omits many interesting facts from this true story. The end results are a plodding and monotonous catalogue-type film, where most of the characters are either stereotypes or utterly forgettable.

“The Boys in the Boat” movie takes place in 1936, when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. In the city of Seattle, a financially struggling, working-class student named Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner) is on the verge of being removed from enrollment at the University of Washington because he hasn’t been able to pay his tuition. In the beginning of the movie, Joe is told by a university official that Joe has two weeks to pay the tuition that he owes, or else he can no longer be enrolled in the university.

As luck would have it in a movie like “The Boys in the Boat,” Joe finds out that he can make the money that he needs in a short period of time if he gets chosen for the university’s junior varsity rowing team: the Washington Huskies. Only eight students will be chosen from a group of about 100 students who have tried out for these coveted slots. The team’s head coach Al Ulbrickson (played by Joel Edgerton) is a typical no-nonsense sports leader who warns everyone that being on this rowing team is physical torture, and most of the people who want to be on the team don’t have what it takes to succeed in rowing.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Joe makes the team, because the movie’s trailer and other marketing materials already reveal who’s on the team. The other students who are chosen are Don Hume (played by Jack Mulhern), Shorty Hunt (played by Bruce Herbelin-Earle), Jim McMillin (played by Wil Coban), Chuck Day (played by Thomas Elms), Johnny White (played by Thomas Stephen Varey) and Gordy Adam (played by Joel Phillimore). Nathan Coy (played by Tom Claxton) is the team’s reserve member. Glenn Morry (played by Frankie Fox) is the team’s coxswain.

Joe’s love interest is Joyce Simdars (played by Hadley Robinson), who was his crush in the fourth grade, but she moved away with her family and hasn’t seen Joe in years. But lo and behold, there she is at the University of Washington as a student. And when Joyce and Joe see each other again, she immediately reminds a slightly embarrassed Joe about the love note that he gave to her when they were children. Joyce, who comes from an affluent family, says she mainly enrolled in the university to get away from her religious mother. The romance between Joe and Joyce goes exactly the way you think it’s going to go in this type of movie.

Joe’s family background is reduced to a soundbite, in a scene where he tells the team’s boat maker George Pocock (played by Peter Guinness) that he’s been on his own since he was 14 years old. The character of George is a sports movie stereotype of a wise elder who’s not the main coach but who gives mentor advice to troubled athletes. Joe’s mother died when Joe was about 4 years old. His father Harry Rantz left to find work when Joe was in high school, and he didn’t come back. Joe briefly mentions he has a stepmother who had two young sons in her care. “It worked out best for everybody,” Joe says of his fractured family.

Really? Because in real life, things were much more difficult for Joe than how it’s described in the movie. In real life, Joe had an older brother named Fred, who is completely erased from the story. And although it’s true that Joe’s father Harry left, what the movie doesn’t mention is that Harry took his wife and stepsons with him. According to “The Boys in the Boat” book, Joe’s stepmother disliked Joe and insisted to Harry that Joe had to be left behind to fend for himself.

This traumatic abandonment is barely explored in the movie, which failed to give a deeper understanding of Joe’s intense motivation to succeed on the rowing team, other than the need to get money for tuition. Instead, the movie turns this parental abandonment into a glib line that Joe says about things working out for the best. You can almost do a countdown to the scene when deadbeat dad Harry (played by Alec Newman) shows up again at a certain point in Joe’s life.

“The Boys in the Boat” makes the same mistake that mediocre and bad movies about sports teams tend to make: Instead of giving distinct and memorable personalities to several of the team members, only one or two team members get this type of showcase. But even in this area, “The Boys in the Boat” falls short with trite dialogue for the two team members who get the most screen time: Joe and Don. Joe is in the team’s seventh boat position to set the pace, while Don is in the eighth position as the stroke anchor.

Joe is a typical star of a team in a sports underdog movie: He’s talented but he had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where he is. Joe is a good guy who’s a little bit introverted. He’s very shy when it comes to dating, which is supposed to make him look endearing to the viewers of “The Boys in the Boat.”

In these types of generic sports movies, the protagonist can’t be completely confident or completely privileged, or else the protagonist won’t be “relatable.” But “The Boys in the Boat” filmmakers don’t want to make Joe have too many hardships, or else that won’t make him “relatable” either. Even when Joe experiences a “will he or won’t he stay on the team” moment, there’s no real gravitas, because this moment comes and goes so quickly in the movie.

Every star on the team has a rival on the same team, who could either become a close ally or a bitter enemy. In this case, Joe’s competition for being the team’s biggest standout is Don, who’s even more socially awkward than Joe when it comes to dating. At least Joe can initiate a conversation with a potential love interest. In a scene taking place at a school dance, Don is afraid to look at and talk to a woman who looks at him flirtatiously when she’s sitting about six feet away from him.

Don’s rowing teammates are at the same dance. They know that Don is a talented piano player. And so, when they see that Don is having a hard time connecting with any women at this dance, what do his teammates do? They get up on stage and tell a reluctant Don that he has to play piano for the crowd, with the ulterior motive being that this performance will impress any women who could be Don’s love interest.

Don starts off playing bashfully, but he quickly improves and wins over the people in the audience, who respond with loud cheering. It gives Don the confidence he needs when that woman who was looking at him earlier has an inevitable conversation with him at the dance. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The coaches in the movie are also fairly predictable. Coach Ulbrickson is typically gruff and tough in training and during rowing matches, but he shows a compassionate side when necessary. His two assistant coaches—Coach Tom Bolles (played by James Wolk) and Coach Brown (played by Dominic Tighe)—are mostly inconsequential characters. Coach Bolles is the more upbeat counterpart to frequently scowling Coach Ulbrickson, while Coach Brown is written with an almost completely blank personality.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports journalist Royal Brougham (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) shows up occasionally to give the coaches information on how rival teams are doing. The movie becomes a checklist of stepping stones for the team, until the Huskies reach their ultimate challenge: competing in the 1936 Olympics against the frontrunner rowing team from Nazi-controlled Germany. There is no suspense, because there would be no “Boys in the Boat” movie if the villain team won.

Along the way, viewers of “The Boys in the Boat” are constantly pounded over the head with corny dialogue saying that because the University of Washington’s junior varsity team members come from working-class backgrounds, they “deserve” to win more than any affluent and privileged students from opposing teams. This heavy-handed messaging is especially hammered into the Pacific Coast Regatta scenes, where the Washington Huskies face off against the better-funded and more experienced Cal Bears from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s reverse snobbery that’s kind of obnoxious and hypocritical, considering that “The Boys in the Boat” director/producer Clooney comes from the same type of affluent and privileged family background that is frequently insulted in this hokey movie.

And therein lies what is ultimately the undoing of “The Boys in the Boat.” By trying too hard to look “relatable” by appealing to “working-class/common-person” sensibilities, everything is “dumbed down” and ends up looking too phony in the movie. “The Boys in the Boat” needed to give audience members more credit in being able to handle the grittier and more complex nuances of these real rowing team members, instead of forcing these athletes into looking like “too good to be true” heroes with cardboard personalities.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Boys in the Boat” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,’ starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams

April 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Fionna Glascott, Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

Directed by David Yates

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1930s in the United Kingdom, New York City, China, Germany, Austria and Bhutan, the fantasy film “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) portraying wizards, witches and Muggles (humans with no magical powers).

Culture Clash: In this prequel movie to the “Harry Potter” series, good wizard Albus Dumbledore assembles a team to do battle against his former lover Gellert Grindelwald, an evil wizard who wants to oppress Muggles and take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Harry Potter” universe fans, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” will appeal to viewers of fantasy films about battling wizards, but viewers of this jumbled movie will be very confused unless they saw or know what happened in 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

Mads Mikkelsen in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Messy and often tedious, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” stumbles and fumbles around like a franchise in search of a coherent plot. It’s ironic that this sequel about battling wizards has lost the magic of the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie and doesn’t even come close to the best “Harry Potter” movies. The “Fantastic Beast” movies, which are the prequels to the “Harry Potter” movies, began with 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and continued with 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and 2022’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

David Yates, who directed the last four “Harry Potter” movies, directed all three of these “Fantastic Beasts” movies, and he has been announced as the director of more “Fantastic Beasts” movies. Unfortunately, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” looks like a movie where, even though many of the same filmmakers from previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies are involved, they’ve gotten too self-satisfied with their financial success and are just churning out uninspired mediocrity. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a perfect example of a movie with “sequel-itis,” where there’s little to no effort to surpass the creativity of the first (and usually best) movie in the series.

“Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” book series author J.K. Rowling has been the screenplay writer for the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. For “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Rowling and Steve Kloves are the credited screenwriters. However, they make the mistake that a lot of movie sequel screenwriters make when crafting a story: assuming that everyone seeing the movie saw a preceding movie in the series.

If you don’t know who Grindelwald and Dumbledore are, if you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a magician and a Muggle, and you don’t care enough to find out, then “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is not the movie for you. But if you are new to the franchise and are curious, then you probably still need to go and watch the previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies to fully understand what’s going on in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Otherwise, too many parts of the film will be baffling to you.

What is easy to understand is that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has the predictable cliché of a good leader versus a bad leader, who wants to take over the world/universe/fill-in-the-blank space with whatever population. If it’s a fantasy film, various supernatural powers are used and/or spells are cast. And then, it all leads to a big showdown that has the expected outcome. The End.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” follows the same formula, but it doesn’t care enough to inform new viewers about meaningful backstories of the main characters. Viewers would have to know in advance that magizoologist Newton “Newt” Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a British Ministry of Magic employee, who works in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Viewers would also have to know that Newt is the protégé of Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), a highly respected member of the British Wizarding Community and a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he teaches students how to defend against the dark arts. (It’s the school that’s later attended by Harry Potter and his friends.)

Viewers would also have to know that Dumbledore is gay and that he and his ex-lover Gellert Grindelwald (played by Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp in the role), who were a couple when they were in their late teens, are now sworn enemies, because Grindelwald is now an evil wizard who wants to take over the world. One thing that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” does explain more than adequately (and repeats to the point where it insults viewers’ intelligence) is that Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood pact when they were a couple to never directly harm each other. This pact manifests itself in the movies with thorn-like chains around their wrists and a pendant that gets pulled out to show from time to time.

Viewers would also have to know that in this world populated by secret and not-so-secret wizards and witches, human beings with no magical powers are called Muggles. One of these Muggles is Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler), a lovelorn baker who has been Newt’s ally in all of the “Fantastic Beasts’ movies. However, Jacob has mixed feelings about helping Newt in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” That’s because he’s in love with a witch named Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol), who was in a forbidden romance with Jacob because it’s taboo for wizards and witches to have romantic relationships with and marry human beings.

Viewers would also have to know the backstory about Newt’s sometimes tension-filled relationship with his older brother Theseus Scamander (played by Callum Turner), who is considered an upstanding employee of the British Ministry of Magic. By contrast, Newt is considered an unpredictable, somewhat roguish employee of the British Ministry of Magic. As explained in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Newt and Theseus fell in love with the same woman named Leta Lestrange (played by Zoë Kravitz), whose fate is shown in that movie.

And then there’s the complicated history of Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller), whose real name was revealed to be Aurelius Dumbledore in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” He’s been caught in a tug-of-war between good and evil. In the beginning of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Credence/Aurelius (who is very dour and mopey) is on evil Grindelwald’s side. And so is Queenie, the love of Jacob’s life.

What does all of this mean? Dumbledore is going to assemble a team to defeat Grindelwald, who is a political candidate in the upcoming election for supreme head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW). This election is supposed to show that Grindelwald is not going to operate in the underworld, but he wants to become part of the establishment government in power. Grindelwald’s two opponent candidates in this election are Brazil’s minister of magic Vicência Santos (played by Maria Fernanda Cândido) and China’s minister of magic Liu Tao (played by Dave Wong), while the outgoing ICW supreme head is Anton Vogel (played by Oliver Masucci), who is Germany’s minister of magic.

In addition to Newt and Jacob, the others who are on Dumbledore’s team are Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (played by Jessica Williams), a sassy teacher at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Yusuf Kama (played by William Nadylam), an even-tempered Senegalese French wizard; and Bunty Broadacre (played by Victoria Yeates), who is Newt’s loyal and trustworthy assistant. Queenie’s sister Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston), a love interest of Newt’s, makes a brief appearance toward the end of the movie. Aberforth Dumbledore (played by Richard Coyle), Albus’ somewhat estranged brother and the owner of the Hog’s Head Inn, is in the movie as an explanation for more of the Dumbledore family history.

And you can’t have a movie called “Fantastic Beasts” without some magical creatures running around. In “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the creature at that’s the center of the story’s intrigue is the rare Qilin (pronounced “chillin”), which looks like a combination of a horse and a dragon. The Qilin has the ability to read someone’s heart and determine if someone is good or evil. In the beginning of the movie, Newt discovers a Qilin that has given birth. However, Grindelwald wants to kill any Qilins, to prevent Grindelwald’s dark heart and sinister intentions from being exposed.

There’s also the Manticore, a three-eyed beast that’s up to no good and looks like a combination of a crab/lobster and a scorpion. And there’s a shape-shifting avian creature called a Wyvern. Returning to the “Fantastic Beasts” series are the Bowtruckle named Pickett and the Niffler named Teddy. Although these creatures all contribute some way to the story, the visual effects for these creatures and the battle scenes won’t be winning any awards.

The opening scene of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is an example of how drab the movie is when in areas it should be electrifying and intriguing. The scene shows Albus Dumbledore and Grindelwald meeting each other at a restaurant. A scene that should sizzle with unresolved feelings between these two former lovers just ends up fizzling with dull dialogue.

Dumbledore tells Grindelwald of their blood oath to never directly harm each other: “We can free each other of it.” Dumbledore adds, “I was in love with you.” Grindelwald is unmoved and expresses his disgust of Dumbledore interacting with Muggles: “Do you really intend to turn your back on your own kind?” Grindelwald sneers. And of the human customers in the restaurant, Grindelwald asks Dumbledore if he can “smell the stench [of humans] in the room.”

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has more monotonous conversations throughout the movie, which makes the characters’ personalities very hollow and formulaic. The story has a lot of globetrotting to several countries to distract from the weak plot. The pacing is too slow in areas where there should be a higher level of intrigue. Many of the action scenes are poorly staged and look too forced and awkward. There’s nothing wrong with any of the cast members’ performances in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” but there’s no real spark to anything about this movie, which plods along until its very predictable conclusion.

The movie’s biggest failing is not adequately explaining crucial backstories. (At one point in the film, Lally does a rushed “exposition dump” by giving a babbling summary of what happened in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” movies.) The film’s lackluster dialogue and trite action scenes don’t help matters. The end result is a movie that seems to take its loyal fan base for granted and doesn’t really make new “Fantastic Beasts” viewers feel welcome.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” in U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Emma’ (2020), starring Anya Taylor-Joy

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Emma"
Anya Taylor-Joy in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Emma” (2020)

Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Culture Representation: This comedic adapation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” is set in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England, and revolves around the white upper-class main characters and some representation of their working-class servants.

Culture Clash: The story’s title character is a young woman who likes to meddle in people’s love lives as a matchmaker, and her snobbish ways about social status sometimes cause problems.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jane Austen novels and period movies about British culture.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This delightful and gorgeously filmed adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” stays mostly faithful to the original story but spices it up a bit to appeal to modern audiences. In her feature-film debut, director Autumn de Wilde takes the comedy of “Emma” and infuses it with more impish energy that’s lustier and more vibrant than previous film and TV adaptations.

The title character of the story is Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman of privilege in her early 20s, who lives with her widowed father in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England. Emma is a somewhat spoiled bachelorette who thinks she has such high intelligence and excellent judgment that she takes it upon herself to play matchmaker to people she deems worthy of her romance advice.

The movie takes place over the course of a year in the early 1800s, beginning one summer and ending the following summer. Viewers know this because different seasons are introduced in bold letters, like a different chapter in a book.

One of the changes from the book that the movie makes is that it begins with Emma attending the wedding of her friend and former governess Miss Taylor (played by Gemma Whelan) to Mr. Weston (played by Rupert Graves). (The book begins after Emma has attended the wedding.) Because Emma had introduced the Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston to each other, Emma feels that she has what it takes to play matchmaker to the unmarried people in her social circle. It’s at the wedding that viewers are introduced to most of the story’s main characters.

Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse (played by Bill Nighy), is a loving dad but often exasperated by Emma’s antics. He’s a hypochondriac who tries to shield himself from imaginary drafts of cold that he’s sure will cause him to get sick.

George Knightley (played by Johnny Flynn) is the handsome and cynical brother-in-law of Emma’s older sister Isabella (played by Chloe Pirrie). He thinks Emma can be an annoying meddler, but he nevertheless seems fascinated by what she does.

Mr. Elton (played by Josh O’Connor) is a social-climbing local vicar who has his eye on courting Emma, mostly because of her wealth and privilege. He’s unaware that Emma doesn’t see him has husband material.

Miss Bates (played by Miranda Hart) is a friendly, middle-aged spinster who is slightly ashamed about being unmarried at her age. She lives with her mother, Mrs. Bates (played by Myra McFadyen), who is a friend of Mr. Woodhouse.

Missing from the wedding is Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill (played by Callum Turner), who has a different last name because he was adopted by his aunt, who is frequently ill. Frank chose to stay home with his aunt instead of attending his father’s wedding.

Emma, who says multiple times in the story that she has no interest in getting married, nevertheless takes it upon herself to tell other people who would be suitable spouses for them. She starts with her gullible best friend Harriet (played by Mia Goth), a slightly younger woman of unknown parentage who idolizes Emma for being more glamorous and seemingly more worldly than Harriet is. Knightley can see that Harriet will be easily manipulated by Emma, and he expresses disapproval over Emma befriending Harriet.

A local farmer named Mr. Martin (played by Connor Swindells) has asked Harriet to marry him, but Emma convinces Harriet to decline the proposal. Why? Even though Mr. Martin is kind and clearly adores Harriet, Emma thinks that Harriet deserves to marry someone who’s higher up on the social ladder. As far as Emma is concerned, Mr. Elton would be an ideal husband for Harriet, so Emma sets out to pair up Harriet and Mr. Elton, whom Emma describes as “such a good-humored man.” It’s too bad that Emma doesn’t see that his humor is really buffoonery.

Mr. Knightley occasionally stops by to visit the Woodhouses, and he warns Emma not to interfere in other people’s love lives. He thinks Mr. Elton would be a terrible match for Harriet. Mr. Knightley is right, of course, but Emma ignores his warnings. Emma begins to manipulate communications between Harriet and Mr. Elton, with the goal that they will end up together and happily married. At one point in the story, Emma and Mr. Knightley have a big argument and they stop talking to each other.

Meanwhile, a new ingenue comes on the scene named Jane Fairfax (played by  Amber Anderson), who is the orphaned niece of Miss Bates. Jane (who is close to Emma’s age) is attractive, intelligent, talented. And everyone seems to be gushing about how wonderful she is, so Emma gets jealous. As Emma complains in a catty moment, “One is very sick of the name Jane Fairfax!”

Frank Churchill, a very eligible bachelor, begins spending more time in the area. And it isn’t long before Emma has thoughts about who would make a suitable wife for him.

However, things don’t go as planned in Emma’s matchmaking schemes. A series of events (and a love triangle or two) make Emma frustrated that things aren’t going her way. Unlike most heroines of romantic stories, Emma can be very difficult, since she can be bossy, selfish and occasionally rude. However, there are moments when she redeems herself, such as when she tries to make amends for her mistakes. If you know anything about romantic comedies and don’t know anything about how “Emma” ends, you can still figure out what will happen and if she’ll fall in love.

One of the changes made in this “Emma” screenplay (written by Eleanor Catton) that’s different from the book is that it puts more heat in the characters’ sexuality, with a makeout scene that’s definitely not described in the book. Another change is Emma shows more acknowledgement of people in the working-class, such as her servants and Mr. Martin, by interacting with them more than she does in the novel.

As Emma, actress Taylor-Joy brings a little bit more of a “hot mess” attitude to the role than Gwyneth Paltrow did when she starred in 1996’s “Emma.” Whereas Paltrow’s version of Emma was the epitome of prim and proper, Taylor-Joy’s version gives the impression that she would be ready to show her legs or knickers under the right circumstances. And as Mr. Knightley, Flynn’s pouty-lipped delivery gives him a smoldering quality that Jeremy Northam’s Mr. Knightley didn’t quite have in 1996’s “Emma.”

“Emma” director de Wilde comes from a music-video background (she’s helmed several videos for rock singer Beck), and perhaps this background explains why this version of “Emma” has a snappy rhythm to the pacing, which is sort of a tribute to 1940s screwball comedies. This pacing is subtle if this is the first version of “Emma” that someone might see, but it’s more noticeable when compared to other movie and TV versions of “Emma,” which tend to be more leisurely paced.

This version of “Emma” is also pitch-perfect when it comes to its costume design (by Alexandra Byrne), production design (by Kave Quinn), art direction (by Alice Sutton) and set decoration (by Stella Fox), because everything will feel like you’ve been transported to the luxrious English estates of the era. The costume design in particular is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

“Emma” certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for people who don’t like watching period pieces about stuffy British people. However, fans of Austen’s “Emma” novel will find a lot to enjoy about this memorable movie adaptation.

Focus Features released “Emma” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “Emma” to March 20, 2020.

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