There comes a time in every woman’s life where she needs to curl up with a pizza, some Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, and Jane Austen, and last weekend was just such a time. I picked Emma at the store because I hadn’t seen it since it came out, and even though I had also *read* it, I completely forgot my impression of it. Plus it had Ewan McGregor in it. Did I mention Girl Scout cookies?
After greatly disliking Gwynneth Paltrow in Great Expectations, I was horrified to find myself adoring her again in this film, and the multitude of wonderful people who join her – Jeremy Northam, priming himself for the conjugal spanking of a lifetime, Phyllida Law and her daughter, Ms. Thompson – not Emma, but her sister whose name escapes me – it didn’t even occur to me to write anything down at this stage in the game. Emma Thompson’s sister (to that actress, I sincerely apologize) is big in British TV and not so much in film, but she gives an excellent performance as the poor spinster friend to Paltrow’s Emma. And Toni Collette – how underappreciated she is!
I had forgotten how true to the book this adaptation was, and I appreciated by proxy how true to the source material Clueless is as well. I have always like Austen’s women leads, they are strong but neurotic, insecure but confident, lovely yet stupid at times as well – they are perfectly normal people, trapped in this unwittingly sexy period when restraint was the order of the day and gossip and wordplay were art forms. Oh, I wish I could conjure such magical times in my immediate social circle!
Ah well. Yet despite the restraint and British stuffiness and decorum, the mood is so genial and comfortable – I can’t stand the formality of a regular mid-week sit down dinner, much less servants and dressing for tea!
After traipsing through a pleasant, winsome, sunny British romantic tale, I said, well, geez, I have to watch Sense and Sensibility again. Watching the two films together, it is difficult to imagine the germs of the books coming from the same author – true, the films have different casts and directors, but Sense and Sensibility draws more deeply from the well of melodrama (in the best sense) with a wider range of pain and joy than in felt in Emma. Emma is an adolescent tragedy that turns out well – Sense and Sensibility is a more dire, heartfelt exploration of women’s predicaments and feelings. Emma was written 5 years after S & S – could it be Austen just lightened up? Or is Ang Lee (director of S & S) simply more sensitive to the issues underlying the plot?
The bottom line is, who cares? They are both excellent books and movies in their own right, and neither actually lose anything when contrasted to the other. And I want to buy them both on DVD when available. The sexual tension is a bit more exposed in Emma, perhaps because it is a more “Hollywood” film. And frankly, there are way hotter guys in Emma as well, and a greater number of lovely ladies. The incomparable Kate Winslet’s sensibility is a keen match to Emma Thompson’s sense; while both actresses are thought of as those personalities in real life, it’s their sisterly affection that sells us on the contrast.
Rent them both and you will see. Neither will disappoint, even on repeated viewings. My 10th grade English teacher was right – there is a reason these books become classics, and it’s because they’re freakin’ great.
*Author’s note, much much later in time: While Emma remains a delicate froth of a movie, Sense and Sensibility always makes it onto my top ten list of all time for its sheer perfection of craft and content, casting and color. if you are trying to choose, Sense should win every time. Also: enjoy Clueless as a brilliant modernization of Emma!
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 8/2/96
Time in minutes 121
Director Douglas McGrath
Sense and Sensibility
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/14/95
Time in minutes 135
Director Ang Lee
Studio Columbia Pictures