I had planned to go see “Emma” at the Crescent Theater. Star Anya Taylor-Joy gazed evenly out of the poster with her preternaturally gigantic eyes, clad in the most stunning yellow dress, and I knew that this was the perfect movie for me. Faithful yet slyly updated literature adaptations are my jam (see also: “Little Women”). Unfortunately, we all know why I couldn’t get out to see it at the Crescent.
“Emma” became one of the movies in theaters to switch to streaming, and I found it a welcome and gorgeous distraction, brainy enough but fairly low stakes. Plus, I knew the plot already, so I could relax and enjoy the hats. The only scary part was people shaking and kissing hands in greeting.
The hats! If you are the kind of person who can be pleasantly engaged by extremely fabulous costumes, “Emma” is the flick for you. Based on the Jane Austen novel, which features a peculiar period at the end of the title, this version is not afraid to show the titular Emma Woodhouse as the vapid manipulator she is when the story begins.
Taylor-Joy portrays Emma and is more overtly immature and selfish than the fake English princess in the ’90s version — and I mean that as a compliment, Gwyneth Paltrow! This version makes the motives of Emma and George Knightley feel contemporary, real and relatable.
English singer Johnny Flynn makes a particularly dreamy and youthful Mr. Knightley, who we happen to see completely nude in his first scene, getting dressed. At first I thought this was a ridiculously unnecessary (but not unwelcome) shot, but then I realized how much I thought about the many layers and confinements of their elaborate clothing after that. Details like this and many brief but deliberate shots of the servants added depth to the familiar story.
“Emma” is a faithful adaptation with sharp teeth and, above all, it is absolutely hilarious. Most importantly, Bill Nighy is superb as Emma’s relentlessly cranky and hypochondriac father, declaring “it was a terrible day” after every single event he is compelled to attend. He is just one in a uniformly hilarious supporting cast giving canny, knowing, funny performances. “Emma” might not be the most profound tale ever told, but it is a few beautiful hours of worthwhile diversion, humor, romance and hats.
“Emma” is currently available to stream.
“Onward” is another film that switched to streaming, and you can read its title as a much-needed call to focus on the future. That is, if you can ever stop crying from this absurdly moving Pixar movie, which takes that highly effective Pixar emotional formula and just leans all the way in. It is the tale of two blue-haired brothers who find a way to bring their late father back to life for just one day.
Set in a colorful, hilariously detailed fantasy world where people live in mushroom houses (the main draw for me) and the residents are a mix of fantastical creatures, the brothers, one of whom was born shortly after their dad’s death, only succeed in bringing half their father to life. They have 24 hours to set out on a quest to complete the spell so they can see him in his entirety. If you think too much about it, it’s pretty ghastly and, due in no small part to present viewing circumstances, it was at times hard for me to watch. It rivaled that profound and profoundly sad Pixar classic “Inside Out” for emotional gut punches. (RIP Bing Bong.)
For kids who aren’t watching too deeply, “Onward” is absolutely adorable. It is exciting and fun and the fantasy setting is mined for clever comedy in every scene. The brothers, voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, have an extraordinary relationship.
My younger child thinks it’s hilarious and thrilling; my young teen was somewhat disturbed by the half dad. For the many viewings I see in my future, I’m going to try not to think too hard about the dad, and focus on the toadstool houses. Basically, my approach in this and everything else right now is to just close my eyes, breathe and think “onward.”
“Onward” is currently available to stream.
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