THE INVISIBLE MAN AND EMMA
“THE INVISIBLE MAN” AND “EMMA”
By Matt Neufeld
The Washington Film Institute
March 1, 2020
Alas, the releases of Leigh Whannell’s modern-day version of the classic H. G. Wells story “The Invisible Man” and the fourth film version and at least sixth overall version of Jane Austen’s “Emma”–two of the latest victims of the sequelitis virus that continues to plague, trouble and threaten the movie business–bring to a sudden end a most welcome recent string of above-average films released in the first two months of 2020. “The Invisible Man” “Emma” feature some positive artistic, technical and production aspects, but both movies are soon enough brought down by their overbearing, insufferable stories, characters, characterizations, plots, direction and dialogue.
Thus, if you still haven’t gotten around to seeing “The Gentlemen,” “The Rhythm Section,” “Birds of Prey” and “Sonic the Hedgehog”–all fun, all original, all unique, all recommended–these films would be your better bets as February comes to a close and March arrives. You can summarily skip seeing “Invisible” and “Emma,” and you’d be better off seeing these movies as a side diversion on a lazy Sunday afternoon on cable, just to see how the filmmakers managed to bungle these two basically unneeded sequelitis remakes.
“THE INVISIBLE MAN”
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Written by Leigh Whannell
Based on “The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Produced by Jason Blum and Kylie du Fresne
Cinemetography by Stefan Duscio
Edited by Andy Canny
Music by Benjamin Wallfisch
There should be nothing but praise during the last sixteen years for film writer, actor, director and producer Leigh Whannell, as he has consistently been one of the most successful filmmakers in all of these areas on a regular basis, turning out a steady, reliable, generally praiseworthy–and critically and popularly successful–stream of popular, well-received and well-liked films that have instantly plugged into the zeitgeist and filmmakers’ hearts on an impressively consistent level. Whannell, along with fellow film school peer James Wan, was the co-creator of the incredibly successful “Saw” series, and Whannell, working with Wan, wrote “Dead Silence” (2007), “Insidious” (2010), and “Insidious: Chapter 2” (2013). Whannell directed “Insidious: Chapter 3” (205), and he also directed “Upgrade,” which was released in 2018. In addition, Whannell has also wrote, directed, acted in and produced several other films–again, building a most impressive film resume in just sixteen brief years!
There’s little doubt that Whannell’s take on H. G. Wells’ classic science-fiction tale “The Invisible Man” will be successful at the box office during its opening weekend of Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, to Sunday, March 1, 2020, too—but, nevertheless, the film, overall, falls flat and falls flat fast; does not improve upon Wells’ story or the existing–and exhausting and overdone–splotchy catalogue of films mainly riffing poorly on the invisible-person theme; strangely does not adequately take advantage of modern special effects techniques in the expected manner to improve on the idea of a person obtaining invisibility; takes some odd story and plot twists and turns that ultimately destroy the movie and cause all proceedings to abruptly crash and burn; is overwhelming and unnecessarily gut-wrenchingly violent, bloody and gory; falters in all story, plot and dialogue categories increasingly as the movie progresses; and, perhaps most noticeably, fails under the increasingly irritating, annoying and overdone guidance and production from Jason Blum, who with each successive film is over-extending his already-overblown and over-praised reputation to the point of increasing decreasing returns on expectations.
Whannell, who wrote and directed this version of “The Invisible Man,” should have known better. During his stewardship of the various “Saw” and “Insidious” movies and other horror, suspense and fantasy-style thrillers, he has seemed to thrive on crafting smaller-budget-style, original (or at least, in terms of his sequels, his own original-based worlds), close-in thrillers, pulling people into worlds of horror, suspense, the supernatural, the paranormal, psychological puzzle boxes of the mind, and basic scare-fests that combine the best elements of modern-day filmmaking with good, old-fashioned, horror movie, haunted house attraction and campfire story scares, thrills and chills. One would have thought that that intuition for storytelling and scares would have carried over to Wells’ everlasting “Invisible Man” nugget, but, again, this time out things just don’t work for Whannell and his hardworking cast and crew, all of whom deserve scattered credit for various achievements, but those various achievements simply cannot coalesce into a welcome, worthy, well-praised whole of a movie.
First, Whannell should have actually stuck more to Wells’ original, traditional science fiction novel that was first published in 1897. Millions of people have read Wells’ novel, but that story’s basic narrative contents and characteristics won’t be revealed here, for the sake of those who have not yet read the book–and everyone should read this book. The novel’s original story is far more interesting than Whannell’s oddly, weirdly–and disjointedly–constructed screenplay, which is empty, cold, violent and full of too many cliches that Whannell should have known to avoid–dumb jump scares, random violence, cat-and-mouse chases and scenes of empty rooms and spaces that were intended to create fear but ultimately just take up time and space that could have been devoted to more intelligent dialogue, action, scenes and story development. Whannell has simply created a woman-who-cries-wolf, woman-chased-by-unseen-person, cat-and-mouse-ad-nauseum, woman-framed-repeatedly-for-acts-she-didn’t-commit, crazy-psycho-enacting-revenge, jump-scare series of scenes, and not really a strong, smart, cohesive, dialogue-based real story that moves characters, stories, plots and subplots forward in a satisfactory manner.
Wells’ original novel should be the starting, and ending, point for any and all “Invisible Man” versions–including the original story, characters, settings, time period, location and dialogue. As it turns out with most classics, there’s little need to change or alter the original. It’s how differing creative writers, directors, producers and actors re-imagine and display and portray and update and improve upon that original in newer versions that is the real test. The best recent example of talented filmmakers coming together to achieve this with a new, successful take on an original while also adhering to the original source’s basic qualities is the above-average version of “Little Women” that was just released at the end of 2019. That film, which somehow managed to remain faithful to its original source but also impart its own original atmosphere, aura, viewpoint and stance, should be the benchmark and foundation for all remakes, reboots and reimaginings going forward, with this basic lesson: With some effort, creativity, ingenuity, talent and teamwork, sometimes–just sometimes–filmmakers can remain faithful to the core source but also add a little something that makes the remake a bit original and actually worth seeing again. This rarely happens among the sequelitis case history, but “Little Women” proved that it can sometimes happen. And it’s worth noting that the 2019 version of “Little Women” was about the twentieth–give or take a bunch of versions–version of “Little Women”–in film, television, stage and even musical theater, television animation, comic book and opera forms!!
So when Leigh Whannell decided to nearly completely ignore, cast aside and nearly throw away most of Wells’ novel, story, characters, settings and time period, he promptly lost literally most of what actually makes “The Invisible Man” work–and thus, he lost his film bearings. As it stands, Whannell’s “Invisible Man” is set in modern times, with modern-day characters, and his unsympathetic, stressed-out, uncommunicative, yelling, screaming, battling and overly-medicated modern-day characters elicit little sympathy, likeability, charm or anything else positive that filmgoers can attach themselves to and with. They’re all wiry, screeching, annoying, attitude-drowning people who can’t seem to communicate, connect or relate to each other, despite the apparently horror- and supernatural-based incidents occurring around them.
The second concurrent mistake that Whannell made was leaving the successful–and welcome–comfort zone that he created with his friend, film school peer, creative partner and filmmaking co-worker James Wan and linking up with the aforementioned violence-obsessed, cliched-obsessed, distant, droning–and overall irritating and annoying–filmmaker Jason Blum, who has to be one of the most over-rated filmmakers in recent years. Blum and his production house produce “The Invisible Man,” to the movie’s disadvantage. Blum is no Wan-and-Whannell, although he desperately wants to be Wan and Whannell. Blum consistently, crazily and stomach-churningly over-relies on gut-punching, gross-out, overly-bloody, overly-loud, overly-graphic, overly in-your-face, overly unneeded violence, blood, guts and gore in his films. Blum also consistently over-relies on film pacing and timing that’s planned more for instant-gratification scare-house scares and jolts rather than subtlety, grace, precision, timing, pacing and editing that actually adequately builds to more suspense as a film builds and progresses to its climax and conclusion. Blum insists instead on consistently bashing filmmakers over the head with outrageous scenes of violence, as if to say “this is modern,” “this is real” or “this is today’s horror filmmaking.” Well, the unfortunate reality for Blum is that his tactics and techniques are not necessarily modern, are not “real” or real-like, and are not actually indicative of modern-day horror filmmaking or filmmaking in general. Filmmakers and horror filmmakers have been trying, and occasionally succeeding, in shocking filmgoers with blood, guts, gore, shock and schlock since the beginning of film–and even through the decades, shock-filmmaking rarely works well, and only barely works in the films where shock-and-schlock techniques are used.
And Blum and crew need to immediately cease and desist utilizing these non-melodic, non-musical, pounding, thrashing, banging, clanging, trash-can-sounding, car-crashing-sounding, machinery-sounding irritating and annoying musical scores, if they can even be called musical. Blum insists on trashing his films with these droning, draining, dreary noise-filled scores that detract from, instead of support, the film. The so-called music in Blum’s films seem to be intended as some type of experimental anti-musical-score music, but in the end, it all just ends up sounding like trash being dumped into garbage truck, cars crashing into each other, or broken machines about to explode. That’s not music–it’s just noise.
Avoiding many of these modern-day horror film pitfalls is the lesson that Wan and Whannell have learned, and it’s a lesson that Blum and similar filmmakers have apparently yet to learn. The sad reality is that for far too long, most late-twentieth-century and most early-twenty-first-century horror, suspense, thriller, psychological drama thriller, supernatural and paranormal films are simply below-average. And among this general categorization are, yes, a cargo-ship-load of concurrent flat-out awful–you guessed it–remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and reimaginings in these genres.
It’s worth noting, of course, that there have been dozens and dozens (and more dozens) of versions of either Wells’ “The Invisible Man,” other stories based on Wells’ basic idea, or simply stories riffing off of the person-becomes-invisible theme ever since Wells’ book was published in 1897, including, but not limited to, scores of movies, scores of television shows, a radio show, a musical (yes, a musical), comic books, novels, short stories, invisible characters appearing in scores of stories and genres and media forms, animation and cartoons–and even a television commercial mascot.
Which brings everything back full-circle to Whannell’s disappointing remake of “The Invisible Man.”
In Whannell’s version, a hapless woman, Cecelia Kass (Elisabeth Moss, turning in a great performance that needed to be in a greater movie) in the modern-day 20teens is trapped in a scary, psychologically-threatening romantic relationship with a wealthy, successful inventor and scientist, and she leaves him. When she leaves him, he goes crazy and doesn’t take the split too well. From there, Kass insists that someone or something unseen, or invisible, is following her, abusing her, torturing her, setting her up for failure, threatening her and generally trying to upend, or even end, her life. Of course, she can’t see who or what is doing what to her, she can’t prove what she knows is happening to anyone else, and, as time goes on, of course no one believes her, she’s believed to be crazy, she cries wolf so many times in so many ways in so many places in so many situations it all becomes repetitive, numbing and blurred, everyone turns against her, things happen that fall way too far out of the basic storylines and structures, and eventually the madness piles up to the point where Kass is left alone, on her own, fighting to retain and prove and recover her sanity, her story and her beliefs.
That sounds like the basis for a good, modern-day psychological horror suspense film–and it is. But it just doesn’t work this time around, as noted, and it doesn’t work under these particular story, structure, plot, characterization, dialogue, directing, timing, pacing or production filmic qualities in Whannell’s film. The story, plot and pacing devolve into the aforementioned cliches, the story falls apart, and one huge plot development–which won’t be revealed in detail here–occurs that, in an instant, succinctly deflates the entire move in just one scene. After that one, huge plot, story and film deflating scene, “The Invisible Man” enters a fast downward-spiraling freefall during the remainder of the film, and, alas, the movie never recovers.
Whannell ably directs–he is a competent director–the production design, art direction and special effect elements are indeed well executed, and, as noted, Moss turns in an exceptional performance. But these positive aspects simply cannot save “The Invisible Man” from the over-arching negatives previously mentioned.
There is no meanness or negativity or sarcasm intended–Whannell and Moss and the artistic crew are to be commended for turning in a good attempt–but, again, in the end, this respective version of “The Invisible Man,” is better left unseen.
And unfortunately, the news isn’t good for Whannell for the future: The word in the film industry is that sequelitis has continued to infect Whannell–he is rumored to be writing a new version of John Carpenter’s camp classic from 1981, “Escape from New York.” Sigh. Does it need to be said? There is zero reason to remake “Escape from New York.” There is zero reason for a new film version of “Escape from New York.” And there is zero reason for Leigh Whannell to write any other script based on “Escape from New York.”
Calling the CDC: Please find the cure for film industry sequelitis as soon as you can.
And a note to Leigh Whannell: Please call up your friend and creative partner James Wan, find a new, original story–one that has not been told before–set a small, affordable budget, hire some unknown actors, and spend a few months crafting a new, small-budget, original film, just like the old days. And, to be original, make this new film project a film that has absolutely nothing to do with horror, fantasy, science fiction, psychological drama, the supernatural or the paranormal–nothing. This is the next direction for Whannell and Wan. The results could be spectacular.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Mia Goth, Billy Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart,
Screenplay by Eleanor Catton
Based on “Emma,” by Jane Austen
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin
Cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt
Edited by Nick Emerson
Music Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer
Why anyone thought that another unneeded version of Jane Austen’s insufferable, blue-blood, silver-spoon, bubble-world, snooty, snotty, snobby excess rummage through the entirely unrelatable, unsympathetic, unrealistic and entirely out-of-it classist world of rich, emotionally-stunted idiots and morons existing in some netherworld existence that most of the planet does not care about and cannot connect to any possible level, is beyond understanding. Thus, of all things, there is a 2020 version of this weirdness in the form of at least the fourth film version of Jane Austen’s inexplicable, baffling 1815 book. It’s worth noting that this study in excessive excess among very rich, but clueless, snobs is a complete waste of time–and an especially notable waste of time in a world increasingly beset and troubled by horrific class, communication, income, equality, wealth, financial and economic differences, gaps, disparities and inequalities. The very thought of any film industry official sitting in a boardroom and approving the financing of such a film during such a time is, well, clueless, to borrow the title of one of the many versions of “Emma” that have mysteriously repeatedly surfaced through the ages.
Yes, yes, it is well-known that there are–somehow, for some equally mysterious reason–fans of Jane Austen, fans of “Emma” and fans of Austen’s work. There are also fans of thousands of other equally mysterious purveyors of similarly inexplicable popular culture dreck, camp, schlock, tackiness, mediocrity and general weirdness. It’s a big, wide world out there, and it’s always maddening to try and figure out just exactly why and how certain aspects of popular culture become popular, stay popular and insist on surfacing in revised, unneeded and generally mediocre or outright below-average versions every couple of tortured years.
Pop culture happens.
At times, like this film review, the best we can do is focus on the subject at hand and just impart exactly why and how this latest bout of movie industry sequelitis–the 2020 movie version of “Emma”–is indeed bad for one’s mental, filmic and psychological well-being. To keep things simple: Do not go out and waste your money to see this version of “Emma” in the theaters–the movie is insufferable, clueless, uncaring, horribly detached from any sense of reality–whether it’s 1815 or 2020 or anywhere in between, and the type of over-hyped, over-produced period costume drama, romance and attempted-comedy that exists in a world so closed off, so cloistered, so insular, and so separated from reality–again, any reality, in any time period–that the viewer is simply left wondering why we care about any of these people, why we are watching and listening to these people, why we care what these people do, where they do it, why they do it or how they do it, and just why on earth or why in the expanding universe anyone–Earthbound or alien–would care one bit about any of these snitty, snotty people.
“Emma” attempts to tell a story about a blue-blood, cloistered, detached young woman named Emma Woodhouse, who wanders around her excessive mansion’s excessively-decorated rooms in excessive clothes, excessive hairdos, eating excessive food things, bellowing at excessive-lifestyle servants who look as if they would rather be anywhere else in the universe except near this woman, and excessively, obsessively, weirdly–and nearly pathologically insanely and mentally-disturbingly–interfering with, ruining and annoying the lives of everyone within miles of her excessive, insane existence. Really–that appears to be all that Emma does, or is even capable of doing–simply interfering with other people’s lives, ruining those lives, and completely existing outside of any apparent or known manner of being productive, contributing to society, helping people, moving things forward, working, or even socializing on a nice, kind, caring, productive level. Emma Woodhouse is one of those irritating people that…just…exists. And somehow manages to implicate her annoying self into the lives of everyone else–again, for no apparent productive, meaningful reason. This is not exaggerating or being sarcastic, either–this is precisely what Emma does.
This movie Emma is so rich, and so detached from reality, it’s as if the person, the character, and the movie’s characterization, is simply a person who cannot function in society except to function as an annoying rich person who complicates, lords over and reigns over other people, just because she somehow can, based on her wealth, good looks, and, well, her wealth and good looks. Because it’s certainly not Emma’s personality as portrayed by wooden, one-note, one-dimensional actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Emma with a constant smirk, a constant wall of snobbery around her, a constant air of stand-offishness, and a constant, general aura of such complete wall-of-unsoundness, it’s a wonder why anyone would care to be around her, much less be bossed around, manipulated, controlled and nearly owned-and-operated by her. Taylor-Joy’s performance is so insufferable–that word will have to pop up constantly because it’s the one, best word that describes everything that is wrong with “Emma”–the character is unlikeable, unsympathetic, and, after nearly two hours of that smirk, wall and standoffishness, just completely unbearable. And if the main character is unlikeable and unbearable from start to finish–so is the movie.
It should be noted that this “Emma” is at least the fourth feature film of this story–that includes a 1948 feature film, a 1996 feature film, a 1996 television movie, and this flop dud. It’s also worth noting that–for some reason–there were three previous “Emma” television miniseries–THREE, mind you, THREE!–in 1960, in 1972, and in 2009. There were other adaptation, too, including the 1985 feature film “Clueless,” which was very, very loosely based on the general “Emma” story. If anyone can provide a reasonable explanation why there have been seven adaptations of “Emma” in film and television, a donation will be made in your name to The “Emma” Sequelitis Recovery Fund.
The 2020 “Emma” story tries, and fails, to tell a blue-blood story about a rich young woman, Emma, who tries to be some type of odd matchmaker for the people around her, while holding off a bevy of horny young men who are attracted to her–that’s not being unprofessional, because that’s how the young men around Emma appear, because the movie fails to show how or why anyone would actually like this woman for her brains, thoughts, statements, productivity or personality–and while, for some reason, going from rich, high-society home, tea, dinner, dance and event to another, and, again, all of very little productive reason or reasoning. Who cares if some rich people have yet another goofball, over-done afternoon tea, garden party, dinner, dance or whatever? Who cares? All of the characters aren’t doing anything, aren’t going anywhere, aren’t fighting anything–except what’s left of their sanity–and they aren’t apparently contributing much to society other than supporting high-end-world servants, cooks, tailors, carriage repairers, horse tenders, food suppliers, musicians, gourmets, chefs, animal handlers, groundskeepers and other workers.
Does the movie even try to represent, talk about, symbolize or intellectualize the world of the medium-income and lower-income classes that support these rich idiots? Are you kidding? That would be a more intelligent, intellectual, insightful, informative–and entertaining movie. “Emma” barely functions outside of this gasping-for-air-and-sanity high society morons. If the story, and the movie, had dared to try and make a statement about class, economic, financial and educational differences, gaps and inequalities, well, then you would have had a real story, a real meaning, and a real movie. But “Emma” exists in such a false, shut-off world, the movie nearly makes the world appear as if they only people who matter are these rich, cloistered people–and that’s just sad.
In the story and movie, Emma flitters and flutters here and there amongst the very rich, as noted, trying to hook up people here and there, with often terrible results. The movie tries to play this for laughs–but none of it’s funny. Emma tries to hook up her best friend Harriet Smith with various guys, and that’s tried to be played for laughs–but that’s not funny, either. In fact, everything Emma does appears to have some odd, jealously-laden, smite-laden, mentally unstable aspect to it, which not only is never funny, but is rather consistently uncomfortable and awkward. Add to all of that dialogue and line deliveries that are consistenly wooden, out of touch with any reality, over-done, over-stated, overly-flowery and so distant, it’s as if all of the characters–and all of the actors–are existing simply to recite monologues in one endless loop of costume drama, period drama, high society casting call acting auditions. Instead of people actually talking with each other, all of the characters–all of them–in this movie talk at and to–or even down to–other people, as if everyone is walking around with a literal wall around them to protect their precious clothes, hats, accessories and hairstyles. Thus, the characterizations, line deliveries and acting come off as characters walking around with invisible, figurative walls around them, and thus most of the actors and most of the characterizations in “Emma” fail to relate to the viewer.
There are two exceptions, and these exceptions mark the only acting performances that stand out in “Emma.” The first is the always-reliable, and usually quite funny, Bill Nighy. Nighy is such a gifted, talented actor, he can steal a scene, or a movie, with a facial expression, a hand movement, or a quick, quirky line reading. In “Emma,” Nighy plays Emma’s equally-rich father, Mr. Woodhouse, and he’s a hoot to watch. The only problem is that Mr. Woodhouse is not a major player, and appears only to provide an occasional comic relief moment–it’s not much of a character or part, and smarter, wiser filmmakers would have increase the dialogue, lines, insightfulness, mentoring and overall participation of Mr. Woodhouse in the film. In fact, a better, smarter movie would have had a smarter, more dramatic father figure giving hell to Emma for being such an idiot, and urging her to actually wake up, smell the tea and do something productive, useful and intelligent with her sorry life, for gawd’s sake, almighty. Now–that would be an interesting movie. Instead, poor ol’ Mr. Woodhouse seems to exist to just wander around the house, revel in his money and comfort, sit and read, bark at servants and wear fancy clothes. Nighy makes the most of it–but it’s too little, too late to save the movie.
The other stand-out performance is a performance by an actress who just needs to be the lead in a movie that is all of her own–the stunningly beautiful, enchanting, seductive, seducing, sultry, sexy and exquisitively exquisite Mia Goth, who is not only one of the most beautiful and charming women working in film today, but also one of the most beguiling. Goth has a natural beauty, presence, style and charisma that jumps right off of the screen and into your mind and heart–her face is a constant wave of expression, emotion and presence. She conveys innocence and seduction, sexiness and wholesomeness, delicateness and grittiness, rough and smooth–all at the same time. This young actress and model, who’s 26, has been noted for all of this by many others, so this isn’t some random, singular observation. She’s acted in a constant stream of film roles and modeling gigs since she was a teenager, and she’s received praise, attention and fandom every times she appears on screen or in a modeling gig. Like Mila Kunis or Brooke Shields or Jodie Foster or Jordana Brewster, Goth has that unique presence and attractiveness that hovers somewhere between innocence and danger, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol, easy listening and death metal–tugging at the brain in such presence-related passionate ways, viewers can’t take their eyes off of her. And Goth accomplishes all of this in “Emma”–here, Goth, at 26 in real life, plays a teenage boarding school friend of Emma who is as socially shy and reserved as she is downright stunningly beautiful and, yes, seductive and innocently attractive.
The movie tries to portray as a major plot element Emma’s constant torn feelings between setting up Harriet with an appropriate man while also being jealous of her friend’s charms and beauty and sexiness–to the point where Emma’s jealousy and love of Harriet complicates their friendship. However, that friendship, it should be noted, is strictly platonic, not sexual, because this movie, remember, fails to take any chances on anything that would suggest daring or inventiveness. If, indeed, Emma had a romantic interest in Harriet and tried to keep Harriet away from the constant bevy of potential suitors to keep Harriet for herself for a possible romantic relationship–well, now, wouldn’t that have been an interesting–if not explosively original–take on this story?
Nevertheless, with a look, a physical move, some dialogue that is among the few lines of dialogue that appears to be rooted and grounded in the real world, Goth manages to steal every scene she’s in–and the movie–right out from everyone else simply by portraying with earnest honesty a likeable, charming, down-to-earth, even comical, young woman coming of age amid these weird, off rich people and this automaton robot of a woman named Emma. The director of this movie, Autumn de Wilde, at least has the sense to often just let the camera pleasingly rest on Goth’s beautiful face, and in those moments, a movie star shines amid a movie that generally does not shine.
It’s far past the time for the film industry to write and produce a feature length film designed specifically with Mia Goth in mind as the lead character. It’s amazing that this hasn’t happened yet, but this does need to happen. Goth is simply too much of a presence on film, and she needs to have her own lead role in a film.
Besides Nighy and Goth, “Emma” does manage to succeed in the areas of production design, set decoration, set design, costuming, hair and make-up and art direction. Every scene, set, house, grounds, room, prop, costume, piece of furniture, carriage, dinner table, tea table and plate of food in this movie is beautifully created, crafted, presented, designed and displayed. The period detail, costume design and art direction cannot be ignored, as all are consistently and eloquently brought to life.
However, alas, two solid performances and some outstanding production design and art direction do not make a good or great movie.
“Emma” ends up being swallowed up, engulfed, smothered and defeated by its ingratiating and, yes, clueless and insufferable insufferability, snootery, snobbery and general disregard for real emotions, real lives, the real world and how most of the world actually managers to somehow get up, get by and survive. In the end, there’s very little reason to care about most of the people in “Emma,” and there’s very little reason to care about this movie.