Review: ‘Pearl’ (2022), starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland and Emma Jenkins-Purro

September 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “Pearl” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“Pearl” (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Some language in German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1918, the horror film “Pearl” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mentally ill young woman, who’s desperate to become a famous entertainer and move away from her family’s rural farm, will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. 

Culture Audience: “Pearl” (which is a prequel to the 2022 horror movie “X”) will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “X,” filmmaker Ti West, star Mia Goth and slasher movies that are just as effective in showing psychological horror.

Mia Goth and Tandi Wright in “Pearl” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

In this prequel to director Ti West’s 2022 horror flick “X,” Mia Goth shows why she is one of the all-time great actresses in horror movies. Her disturbing performance as the title character in “Pearl” is a master class in horror excellence. Viewers don’t need to see “X” before seeing “Pearl” (both movies were directed by West), but seeing “X” before seeing “Pearl” gives much better context to “Pearl” in foreshadowing what’s to come for this unhinged serial killer.

“Pearl” was filmed immediately after “X” was filmed. The two movies were released six months apart, which is unusual for a prequel movie. The main location for “Pearl” and “X” is an isolated Texas farm in an unnamed rural town. (“Pearl” and “X” were both actually filmed in New Zealand.”) It’s at this farm where a lot of murder and mayhem take place. “X” was written by West, whereas West and Goth co-wrote “Pearl.”

In “X,” the year is 1979, and a group of six people from a big city in Texas have gone to the farm to make a porn movie called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” The movie’s producer rented the farm. The owners of the farm are an elderly couple named Pearl (played by Goth) and Howard (played by Stephen Ure), who is nicknamed Howie. Pearl and Howard don’t know until after the fact that their farm is being used to film a porn movie. And when Pearl and Howard find out, all hell breaks loose.

The actress who plays the title role in “The Farmer’s Daughter” is Maxine Minx (also played by Goth), an ambitious performer in her 20s who thinks that this porn movie will make her a big star. Pearl becomes fixated on Maxine, who reminds Pearl of how Pearl used to be when Pearl was a young woman who dreamed of becoming a famous entertainer, with a specialty in dancing. Pearl ends up being a voyeur who spies on Maxine, and this voyeurism triggers a deadly rage in Pearl.

The movie “Pearl” is this character’s origin story that shows she’s been mentally ill long before she encountered this unlucky group of pornographers. In “Pearl,” the year is 1918. Pearl (who an only child) is in her late teens and living on the same farm with her parents. The name of the property is Powder Keg Farms, which is a nod to something that happens in “X.”

Pearl is married to Howard (played by Alistair Sewell), but he is a military man who’s away because he’s serving in World War I. She appears to be sweet, innocent and a hopeless romantic. She keeps Howard’s love letters to her as if they are her greatest treasures. However, Pearl’s seemingly harmless exterior masks someone who is capable of a great deal of harm.

The infleunza pandemic is plaguing the United States, so people wear face masks in public. (It’s a chilling parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which “Pearl” and “X” were filmed and released.) Pearl’s one goal in life is to become a movie star, especially in musicals. She frequently goes to the local movie theater to watch her beloved films, such as “Palace Follies,” which she has seen multiple times.

Pearl finds her home life very stifling and will do anything to get away from the farm and follow her dreams. There’s a scene where Pearl is alone and prays out loud: “Please, Lord, make me the biggest star the world has ever known, so I can get far away from this place.” Pearl’s strict and religious mother Ruth (played by Tandi Wright), who is a German immigrant, frequently berates and punishes Pearl if Ruth thinks Pearl did anything wrong. Ruth thinks being an entertainer is a sinful lifestyle, and she expects Pearl to live on the farm for the rest of Pearl’s life.

There are some scenes that show how cruel Ruth can be. One of these scenes takes place during a family dinner at the dining table. Pearl admits that she had some candy on the way back from the movie theater. Ruth gets angry and takes away Pearl’s dinner before Pearl can finish and says that Pearl gave up her right to the meal because Pearl spent money on candy. Pearl says she’s “starving” and pleads with Ruth to let her finish the dinner, but Ruth remains unmoved.

Pearl’s father (played by Matthew Sunderland), who does not have a name in the movie, is catatonic for unnamed health reasons. He is usually seen in a wheelchair, as he watches the love/hate turmoil between Pearl and Ruth, with sadness and fear in his eyes. It’s never made clear if his muteness is voluntary or involuntary.

At various times, Pearl and Ruth express resentment over having to take care of him. Ruth shows signs of mental distress too, when later in the movie, she unleashes a rage-filled rant at Pearl about how much Ruth hates being a caretaker for her husband, and Ruth thinks that Pearl is not doing enough to help. Ruth also knows that something is very wrong with Pearl, when she shouts at Pearl during an argument: “You are not well, Pearl! Something is festering inside of you!”

“Pearl” is the type of horror movie that takes its time to build to the actual horror, because the movie is a psychological portrait of Pearl’s mental illness. Pearl is seen talking to the farm animals, who are the only audience she’s had to practice her dance moves and act out her fantasies of being a famous actress. Out in the farm’s field, she dances with a scarecrow. And then, she starts kissing the scarecrow passionately and simulating sex with the scarecrow as her personal sex doll.

The farm is located near a swamp that has an alligator, which Pearl thinks of as a pet. An early scene in the movie shows Pearl killing a goose on the farm and feeding the goose to the alligator. There’s also an alligator in the same swamp in “X,” which does exactly what you think a horror movie does when there’s an alligator in a swamp. At one point in “Pearl,” it looks like Pearl is going to push her father into the swamp, where the father would surely be eaten by the alligator. Will Pearl commit this murder?

Two things change the trajectory of Pearl’s life in a short period of time. First, she meets the local movie theater’s projectionist (played by David Corenswet), who is a bachelor in his late 20s. The movie’s credits only list this character’s name as The Projectionist, but at one point in the movie, Pearl calls him Johnny. Whatever his name is, there is an immediate attraction between him and Pearl when they first meet.

He’s smooth talker who flirts with Pearl when she’s outside of the theater after she’s seen “Palace Follies” once again. He tells Pearl that she’s welcome to see a movie for free anytime when the theater is closed, and he’s there to operate the film projector. One night, after Pearl has another conflict with Ruth, she rides her bike to the theater and takes him up on his offer.

The other turning point in Pearl’s life happens when Howard’s perky younger sister Misty (played by Emma Jenkins-Purro) stops by the farm to visit and tells Pearl that there will be dancer auditions held in the near future at the local church. Misty will be going to the auditions and suggests that Pearl audition too. Pearl sees this opportunity as her chance to get in the big leagues of the entertainment industry. Pearl is determined to go to the auditions, knowing full well that her mother Ruth would disapprove.

“Pearl” has several nods to “X,” such as the audition scene where Pearl goes on the audition stage, and there’s a big “X” to literally mark her spot. When she meets up with her new projectionist acquaintance, he shows her a softcore porn movie and predicts that this type of adult movie will eventually be legal in the United States. He also mentions that he wants to make these types of movies, and that Pearl would be a big star if she did these types of movies too.

He suggests that Pearl move to Europe, because he says entertainers in Europe have more freedom to express their sexuality. All he will say about his background is that he’s a bohemian who lives a nomadic existence. Pearl is intrigued and awestruck by him and takes his advice to heart.

Viewers who are expecting a typical slasher flick, where the first murder happens within the first 15 minutes of the movie, might be disappointed at how slow-paced “Pearl” seems to be in the first third of the movie. The middle of the movie picks up the pace. And by the last third of “Pearl,” there are several tension-filled, gruesome moments that culminate in scene that’s a cinematic knockout.

Goth has two major standout moments in the film that don’t involve show any bloody murders: In one scene, she delivers a long monologue that is a window into her troubled and twisted soul. And the final scene and the closing credits in “Pearl” will be talked about by horror fans for years.

What also makes “Pearl” so notable as a prequel is that it doesn’t try to copy “X” or confuse people who haven’t seen “X.” (And people who see “Pearl” without seeing “X” first will be curious to see “X” after watching Pearl.”) “Pearl” is a true stand-alone film that has an entirely different look and tone from “X”—quite an achievement, considering all most all the crew members were the same for both films.

The cinematography by Eliot Rockett in “X” was dark and gritty, inspired by the bleakness of many 1970s horror movies. Tyler Bates’ musical score also reflected the angst of a freewheeling 1970s American society on the verge of the 1980s, a decade that ushered in a cultural explosion of financial greed and political conservatism. As stated in the production notes for “Pearl,” West and Rockett were inspired by Technicolor films for “Pearl.” Bates’ musical score is sweeping, lush and romantic—all meant to reflect the elaborate fantasies in Pearl’s mind.

Pearl’s fantasies don’t always match up with reality. That is her personal horror, which manifests itself in the rampage that takes place in the movie. People who saw “X” already know what happened to Pearl as an elderly woman. However, Maxine Minx’s story continues in the sequel “Maxxxine,” which is due out sometime in 2023. West and Goth have a great partnership in this movie saga. It’s a partnership that has resulted in horror movies that are instant classics.

A24 will release “Pearl” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘X’ (2022), starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1979, the horror film “X” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Latina and two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six people go to a rented farm to make a porn movie, but the elderly spouses who own the farm show their violent disapproval. 

Culture Audience: “X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Ti West and horror flicks that skillfully blend horror with satirical comedy.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” is a horror film that doesn’t break any new ground, but this “slow burn” movie delivers some gruesome terror with touches of social satire that can bring some laughs. Written and directed by horror master Ti West, “X” is sure to count as one of his best movies. Will “X” be considered an iconic movie that influences countless other horror films? No. However, “X” takes a simple concept that other slasher movies mishandle and makes it something that horror fans can thoroughly enjoy, as long as people can tolerate watching some bloody violence that can be nauseating to some viewers.

“X” had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s fitting that the movie premiered in Texas, since the story takes place mostly in a rural and unnamed part of Texas. (“X” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) In “X,” the year is 1979, when porn movies made in the U.S. got an “X” rating for adults-only content. Six people in the adult film industry are going on a road trip to an isolated farm that the producer has rented, in order to make a porn film called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” This porn movie is a very low-budget film with only one camera.

The six people on this fateful trip are:

  • Wayne Gilroy (played by Martin Henderson), a brash, fast-talking middle-aged producer whose immediate goal in life is for “The Farmer’s Daughter” to be a blockbuster porn movie—or at least make a fraction of what “Debbie Does Dallas” made, so that Wayne can get out of debt.
  • Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth), an up-and-coming actress who wants to be as famous as “Wonder Woman” TV star Lynda Carter. Off camera, Maxine (who’s in her 20s) is Wayne’s lover (he left his wife for her), and Wayne has promised to make Maxine a star. Maxine also has a cocaine habit, since she’s seen snorting coke several times in the movie.
  • Bobby-Lynne Parker (played by Brittany Snow), an experienced porn actress in her 30s, who styles her physical appearance like Marilyn Monroe, and who likes to think of herself as the reigning Southern belle of porn.
  • Jackson Hole (played by Scott Mescudi), the porn name of a well-endowed actor in his 30s who is the only male cast member doing the porn scenes in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are also sex partners off-camera, in a “friends with benefits” relationship.
  • RJ Nichols (played by Owen Campbell), the director of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” RJ, who’s in his late 20s, likes to think that the porn movies he directs are cinematic art.
  • Lorraine Day (played by Jenna Ortega), RJ’s girlfriend, a “jack of all trades” crew member who is essentially RJ’s assistant. Lorraine is in her late teens or early 20s and is relatively new to the adult film industry. She’s eager to learn all that she can about filmmaking.

The movie’s opening scene shows viewers that this porn movie shoot will result in a massacre, since police officers arrive at the farm and see several bloody and mutilated dead bodies. The movie circles back to this crime scene at the end of the film. The rest of “X” shows what happened 24 hours earlier, leading up to the massacre.

It takes a while for “X” to get going, since the first half of the movie is about the road trip, arriving at the farm, and filming the sex scenes. The farm is owned by an elderly couple named Howard (played by Stephen Ure), nicknamed Howie, and his wife Pearl (also played by Goth), who have been married to each other for decades. Ure and Goth wear balding hair pieces and prosthetic makeup that give creepy and decrepit physical appearances to Howard and Pearl. Goth gives an absolutely maniacal performance as Pearl, who is much more disturbed and volatile than Howard.

Howard is a cantankerous veteran of World War I and World War II. The first thing that Howard does when he sees Wayne is pull a gun on him, until Wayne reminds Howard that he’s the movie producer who’s renting the farm for a film shoot. Wayne doesn’t tell this farm couple that this film shoot is for a porn movie, but Howard and Pearl inevitably find out because they’re on the property during this film shoot.

Pearl is starved for affection from her husband. When she tries to make amorous advances on Howard, he pushes her away and mentions his heart condition when he says, “You know I can’t. My heart.” Pearl is a former dancer who sees a lot of younger herself in Maxine and instantly fixates on Maxine. Pearl is also a voyeur, so it should come as no surprise that Pearl ends up watching one of the sex scenes that’s being filmed in the barn. And when she finds out that a porn movie is being made on her property, all hell breaks loose.

Before the murder and mayhem begin, “X” makes some sly commentary on how gender affects perceptions and judgments of people’s involvement in porn. This small cast and crew of “The Farmer’s Daughter” are a microcosm of larger issues in the adult film industry: Men are usually in charge and usually make the business decisions. The women are usually expected to follow orders.

Women in adult entertainment also get more of society’s stigma and degradation, compared to men in adult entertainment. A woman is much more likely than a man to be called a “whore” for doing porn. This derogatory name-calling happens in a scene in “X,” even though for “The Farmer’s Daughter” porn movie, a man is just as much of a participant in the sex scenes as the women. There’s a moment in the movie where one of the women flips the proverbial script and makes a decision that greatly upsets one of the men.

And because there are three couples on this trip, their dynamics also represent the types of relationships that can occur in the adult film industry. Wayne and Maxine represent a stereotypical older filmmaker who hooks up with a young actress and tells her a lot of big talk about making her a star. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are swingers who don’t have any commitment in their relationship and don’t want to be bound by traditional sexual expectations. RJ and Lorraine represent people who are in the porn industry only to get filmmaking experience so that they can move on to mainstream movies.

“X” has the expected sex scenes, but there are also scenes that show the type of camaraderie that can happen during a film production. On their first night after filming scenes from “The Farmer’s Daughter,” the cast and crew hang out and have some drinks together. Bobby-Lynne leads a toast where she says, “Here’s to the perverts who’ve been paying our bills for years!”

After this toast, Bobby-Lynne sings Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” while Jackson plays acoustic guitar. Snow’s performance of “Landslide” is very good and one of the unexpected highlights in this horror film. This laid-back party scene is effective in showing how the people in this group have no idea what’s in store for them.

“X” has a few nods to 1970s horror classics, such as 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and 1978’s “Halloween.” The comparisons to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are obvious. In “X,” Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” song is played during a pivotal scene. Horror aficionados know that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was also prominently featured in 1978’s “Halloween.”

Even though the first half of “X” doesn’t have any real terror, “X” still manages to keep viewers on edge over what might happen. There’s no real mystery of who the villains are, because this is a slasher flick that clearly forecasts who will be the perpetrators of the violence. Although the ideas in “X” aren’t very original, they’re still filmed in very suspenseful ways. And there’s an interesting twist/reveal toward the end of the film. Ultimately, “X” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a worthy tribute to retro slasher films that makes “X” memorable in its own right.

A24 will release “X” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD is April 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Mayday’ (2021), starring Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Soko, Havana Rose Liu and Juliette Lewis

January 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth, Grace Van Patten, Soko and Havana Rose Liu in “Mayday” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Mayday” (2021)

Directed by Karen Cinorre

Culture Representation: Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, the dramatic film “Mayday” features an almost all-white cast (with one Asian) representing the working-class, and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four young women find themselves on a deserted island and go into combat in a war that’s supposed to represent a war against misogyny.

Culture Audience: “Mayday” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in pretentious movies that try to be clever with symbolism and alternate worlds but fall short in having interesting characters and a coherent plot.

Juliette Lewis in “Mayday” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Some movies take a potentially clever concept and bungle it with a lot of confusing scenes and boring pretension. “Mayday” is one of those misfires. The movie awkwardly mixes heavy-handed preachiness about misogyny with incoherent storytelling wrapped in a war movie. Once viewers understand all the symbolism in “Mayday,” the concept quickly wears thin and becomes an annoying chore to watch.

Written and directed by Karen Cinorre, “Mayday” begins by introducing a woman in her 20s named Anastacia, nicknamed Ana (played by Grace Van Patten), the story’s central character. Ana, who lives and works in an unnamed part of the U.S., is a waitress at an event hall that’s owned and managed by Russian men. She’s teetering on the edge of poverty because she’s been sleeping in her car. Her co-worker Dmitri (played by Théodore Pellerin), who’s a cook at this event hall, tells her one day: “No more nights in the car, Ana.”

Ana needs this job, but viewers soon see that it’s a horrible place to work. During a day when the employees are preparing for a wedding that will take place there, the head waiter (played by Frano Maskovic) takes Ana outside to berate her. Her pushes her up against the wall and yells at her: “Who do you think you are? Amateur!”

Ana goes into a back room for employees. The abusive co-worker follows her, goes into the room, and shuts the door. It’s not shown in the movie, but it’s implied that he has sexually assaulted Ana. This assault sends her into a spiral that’s the catalyst for what happens in the rest of the movie.

Before this assault happened, tension had already been brewing in the workplace on this day. The wedding’s bride and groom show up to check out the preparations. The groom (played by Hyoie O’Grady) is angry and impatient that things are running behind schedule. “Why aren’t you ready?” he yells at the workers.

The bride is a brunette named Marsha (played by Mia Goth), who’s upset and nervous. Marsha is comforted by an event hall employee named June (played by Juliette Lewis), who sees Marsha crying in the bathroom. “I know,” June tells Marsha. “It feels like a nightmare. That’s normal.”

Meanwhile, an ice swan has been prepared as part of the wedding decorations. When the abusive waiter orders Ana to bring the swan, she nervously drops it, and then she runs away. Ana goes into the kitchen and, in a dreamlike sequence, she crawls into the oven.

And the next thing you know, Ana (who’s still in her waitress outfit) is now on a very rocky island. She’s not alone though. Ana is woken up by Marsha, who is now a blonde. And then, Dimtri climbs out of the ocean, introduces himself as a pilot, and says that there’s a war going on. Ana doesn’t see him as her co-worker but as a total stranger, which is the first sign that she’s now in an alternate world. (“Mayday” was actually filmed in Croatia.)

Marsha then drives a motorcycle with Ana on the back. They go to a small inlet, where there’s an abandoned U-boat. Marsha and Ana go down the U-boat hatch, where they meet two other women who are also in their 20s: tough-talking Gert (played by Soko) and quiet Bea (played by Havana Rose Liu). “What brings you here?” Gert asks Ana. Ana replies, “I think I am bird watching.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Marsha is no longer the insecure bride that she was in the other world. On this island, she’s a fearless warrior who teaches Ana how to swim and how to shoot guns. What is this war about and why are they fighting this war?

It becomes obvious when the battle scenes begin, and the four women are fighting against a male-only battalion. These men do not have names, but when Marsha’s angry groom shows up on the opposing side an airman, and the sexual assaulter/head waiter shows up as the opposing side’s submarine captain, you know that these men are supposed to represent misogyny and toxic masculinity.

And in case it wasn’t made clear enough, this conversation between Ana and Marsha spells it out: Ana tells Marsha, “I’ve never been in a war.” Marsha replies, “You’ve been in a war your whole life. You just don’t know it.”

Later, when Marsha teaches Ana how to be a sniper, Marsha says: “Girls make excellent snipers. Snipers endure uncomfortable positions for hours.” Ana replies, “I’m good at that.” Marsha then says, “They know how to make themselves invisible.” Ana adds, “I’m good at that too.”

Most of “Mayday” consists of tediously staged battle scenes and more incoherence. The four women send out distress signals to an entity called the Victory, which promises assistance that never comes. (The distress signal is “May, Alpha, Yankee, Delta, Alpha, Yankee,” which spells out as the acronym MAYDAY.) The Victory is an obvious metaphor for gender-equality initiatives that haven’t been made into laws. (The Equal Rights Amendment is one example.) June shows up later on the island, but she doesn’t add much to the story.

The problem with a misguided movie like “Mayday” is that it makes feminism look like all men are supposed to be the enemy. It doesn’t take into account that there are plenty of good men in the world who treat people with respect. There are plenty of men in the world who believe in gender equality, even though most societies are steeped in giving preference to men when it comes to power and money.

Even if “Mayday” wanted to be a war movie about women versus men, a major problem is that all of the movie’s characters are written with no real personalities. War movies shouldn’t just be about the battle scenes. Viewers have to care about the people in the war, in order to care about who wins or who loses. “Mayday” doesn’t really bother to show who any of these “heroines” really are. They just spout forgettable and often idiotic dialogue.

The message of “Mayday” is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. But the message is delivered in such a clumsily sanctimonious way, it’s a real turnoff. And the end of the movie is an uninspired disappointment. Simply put: “Mayday” is the type of movie that gives feminism a bad name.

Magnolia Pictures released “Mayday” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 1, 2021.

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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