Amid all the attention Jane Austen adaptations have received recently, everyone seems to have overlooked how easy making an Austen film must be. After all, once the period costumes and furniture have been trotted out, the dialogue, which already reads like a great movie script, will take care of itself. To make an outstanding version of an Austen novel—which Emma fortunately is—requires something else. In this case, that something is Gwyneth Paltrow, whose performance finally allows her to emerge as someone other than Brad Pitt's girlfriend. Paltrow takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by the complex, often unlikable, heroine. Viewers of last year's Clueless will already know the plot: A privileged young woman fails to see her own shortsightedness in the course of her constant meddling in others' affairs. While that film successfully, if occasionally preciously, transplanted Austen's plot to a contemporary setting, Emma shows just how rich the source material is. While most literary adaptations look flat and pretty, the fine performances here set Emma apart.
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