I’m a longtime fan of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Did I secretly want it to be my favorite book because it has my name as the title? Yes. Did that lead me to read it when I was too young and couldn’t understand much of it? Uh huh. Have I finally gotten to the age where her storyline as an occasionally selfish and insensitive young woman resonates with me? Yep.

Let me start with how good a job I think Anya Taylor-Joy did as Emma. I grew up with the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma. Though as a 10, 12, 14-year old, I wouldn’t have told you I liked that movie from over the games on my first-gen iPod touch, between my parents on the couch, I have every second of it memorized. Paltrow completely is Emma in my mind. I worried that this would make it impossible for me to like Taylor-Joy in the movie. I worried for nothing.

I really appreciated how true to the character’s age she seemed. How young and my age. It made her fussiness more endearing and excusable. She wasn’t old enough for me to think she kept stubbornly messing up. I didn’t like as much how they portrayed Harriet’s youth, though. For the whole movie, I felt like she was putting on airs to seem younger and ditzier than I could quite believe. Yes, Harriet is supposed to be young and ditzy, but in this version, I was consistently a little uncomfortable with how undignified she was. I suppose she’s a hard character to nail…maybe it’s easier to concentrate on your cleverness as Emma than on your dippiness as Harriet. I can see how childishness is harder to fake than precociousness.

Comedy really set this version apart from the ’96 version. 2020 went much harder. Emma’s father, played by Bill Nighy, and Mr. Elton, played by Josh O’Connor, pulled most of the weight. I grew a little tired of Mr. Elton, but I loved Bill Nighy in this role–I’m so glad they got him! His tight-lipped, willowy kind of physical comedy always made me smile or laugh when he was on. I feel like it takes a special kind of actor to do very predictable, trite bits and still make everyone in the audience laugh, and it was never quiet in the theater when he was on screen.

I think it’s a hard thing to make Emma fans like a new version when they’ve liked others and feel close to the story. They succeeded with me. Now I want to try to speak for some people who didn’t know the story beforehand: they were not very clear about the nature of Mr. Knightley’s relationship with the family at the beginning (or anytime). In the novel, Austen explains that he is a neighbor-turned-close-family-friend who is 16 years older (yes) than Emma. The movie (and I extend this sin to the ’96 version, too, if I must) doesn’t give any of this context! He appears in the living room and everyone acts like friends.

For how long have they been friends? How old is Mr. Knightley? Has the father already thought of them together at all? More importantly:

Why hasn’t Emma see Mr. Knightley as a love interest earlier? It’s because she’s seen him only as a mentor her whole life, since childhood. Conversely, why hasn’t Mr. Knightley see her as a love interest earlier? Because she’s only just recently a woman and not a child. The movie never answers these.

Do I think the movie put a few more fingers in the comedy pot than it needed to? Yeah, I do. Do I think it should’ve worked harder to contextualize Emma’s and Mr. Knightley’s relationship? For sure. Did I enjoy this movie a lot? Yes. Should you go see it? Absolutely.


EMMA. is playing for two more days at the Michigan Theater: Tuesday, March 9th and Wednesday, March 10th! Yes, it’s the umpteenth adaptation, but haven’t all the others been entertaining? I don’t see the streak should break. Jane Austen is STILL RELEVANT. (In the style of the movie title–they really made it all-caps and with a period.)

The story follows Emma, a rich, clever young woman who is learning to be a little less vain and a little more considerate. Emma gets herself involved in several love triangles, willfully misunderstands, and manipulates like there’s no tomorrow…relatably and lovably.

This newest adaptation has some big names attached to it, too: Anya Taylor-Joy from Split plays Emma and Tanya Reynolds and Connor Swindells from the Netflix Series Sex Education play Mrs. Elton and Mr. Martin. I love Sex Education, so I have high hopes for them. I haven’t seen Taylor-Joy in anything yet, but I have heard good reviews about her.

Tickets are available at

REVIEW: 1917

Y’all, I’m not a fan of blood. I’m not a fan of a lot of visible injury or edge-of-death scenes as a way to make me emotional. Should I not be going to war movies?

Maybe. I’ll look away at the very idea of injury, but the swelling music that’s in a lot of these movies? Heck. Yes.

Emma-violence-meter: 2/10, 10 being ridiculously violent. Much appreciated. Nothing ridiculously graphic, much more of that moving music. My favorite, yes favorite, use of violence was when the main character ran across the line of men running into battle and collided with the soldiers a bunch of times. He got thrown and rolled to get up as inelegantly and earnestly as my heart could take.

The soundtrack to that scene raised it to another level, too: a hero with all the orchestra but without the usual pomp and circumstance. His big moment was to run clumsily, not lead an army into battle. I will always be a fan of that kind of switch-up. He was friendless, misunderstood, unsupported, but doggedly persistent. What a great (underrepresented?) value in big movies!!!

I didn’t mean to skip right to the end of the movie in my review. Good reviewers maybe don’t do that? But the end was my favorite part.

To go backwards, I really like how it mostly followed two characters. It felt different from other war movies I’ve seen, which I think spent more time trying to get me to empathize with characters besides the main ones. From the get-go, there was no doubt that my loyalty belonged entirely to these two lazy, unremarkable, relatable guys, and these guys alone. They were the extent of my duty. The movie made a promise with me: love these lovable guys, and you will get what you need from me.

When the time for one of their sacrifices came, I was ready in some way. The movie had said, here is your job. We will break your heart and you will thank us. I heard. I asked only that it wouldn’t abuse me with intestines spilling out or a limb torn off, and it respected my wishes.

What made me even MORE tolerant of what blood-spilling there was was that they bucked the cliché of having wise last words at a certain fateful moment. They leaned into his childishness (I’m using ambiguous pronouns to protect any spoilers I can, because why not?). I loved that choice! Tragedy is tragedy. Death is tragedy. His wasted wisdom wasn’t going to make me sadder than his wasted life. He clung to his friend, asked him to talk him through dying, begged for reassurance that he could get to his brother, and cried from fear until he died. I was a puddle, no extreme shock about it. A sudden, “shock” death isn’t the only way to break a heart! Lots more to think about when he dies slowly after being kind to his attacker….

A little late, but re-tweet to all it won at the Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Fine by me. Thanks for not scarring me and only making my heart squeeze appreciating persistence!


REVIEW: Fantastic Fungi

What a trip.

I liked this documentary film. Maybe not loved, but definitely liked. Mostly, I thought it looked pretty stunning. Shot after shot of colorful, dewey, exotic mushrooms made me feel like I was rolling around on forest floor. But that was really only the first half.

That part taught me a lot about how important fungi are for ecosystems. Smooth music and misty slo-mo was essential. I was lulled into understanding that fungi are the only decomposers that can break down the cellulose in plant cell walls, which I think is actually pretty incredible. My favorite part was when they described how fungi actually help plants communicate to each other: if there’s some kind of threat, like a disease, the fungi can alert the roots of a plant to grow in a direction away from the threat. And look how coolly they animated it!

Ok, onto the part I didn’t think was as successful: the second half of the movie was about fungus having helpful qualities as a drug. My problem isn’t with the idea; it’s with how imbalanced the exploration was into the medical benefits of it. The movie felt a little preachy about how promising that field was. Too heavy-handed. I kept waiting fort the producers to present a more cautious attitude toward using it for relief: there was none. Just, “here are a couple experimental studies of people taking a dose and describing how it helped with depression.” Not enough to convince me of a lot.

On top of that, the movie mostly followed (in the noneducational part) one man’s experience with fungi. But, the movie wasn’t a documentary just about this man; the movie’s called Fantastic Fungi. So this guy’s enchantment with fungi just doesn’t quite seem well-vetted enough to convince me of much more than his enthusiasm for it. Didn’t teach me much about fungi generally.

I’d say, watch this movie if you’re curious about fungi and don’t know much about it yet. Don’t expect to uproot your life and start a mushroom-growing business because of it.

PREVIEW: Fantastic Fungi

Michigan Theater is still showing “Fantastic Fungi,” one more showing! Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 15 at 9:55 pm. They have been showing it since before winter break, and I think I understand that people liked it so much that Michigan Theater brought it back to run a little longer than expected! It’s a documentary film about fungi, their roles on forest floors and potential to heal people. Check it out.

REVIEW: Marriage Story

I didn’t expect this movie’s main plot to follow the legal process of divorce. To be honest, I thought it would follow their falling in love, too. Be warned, there is none of that kind of heartwarming. But the movie still finds a way to feel loving and even a little uplifting to me.

It’s quite a feat, since the movie really is about the technical process of divorce. It shows the difficulty of finding lawyers, the cost (ironically at the expense of the child’s savings), and the frustrating double levels of communicating through lawyers and face to face. I might think a movie about the legal system would be dry or boring. I didn’t.

I read that the director based it off of his own experience with divorce and his child. I can tell! All the examples of when the kid wanted something different than what his parents had planned felt real, because how frustrating is that? One scene shows Driver flying all the way from New York City to L.A. for a little time with his son, but his son doesn’t feel like going with him. But who are the parents to tell the child what he should want, really? All to do in their position is be patient, but I completely sympathized with them in those scenes about how hard that can be.

The part that felt the most realistic to me, though, was the scene that a lot of people are talking about. It’s the ugliest, most shocking scene, when Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson (the parents divorcing) are fighting in his apartment, frustrated with each other about this process they’re going through. Both of them are spitting, tears rolling, noses running, yelling their worst at each other at the top of their lungs. The image at the top, here, is from the end of the scene.

Before Driver collapses at Johansson’s feet, he yells the worst thing imaginable at her: “I wish you were dead.” Without the right lead up about Driver’s character, he’d become a monster. With a disgusted response from Johansson, he’d become a monster. It seems like the hardest needle to thread, avoiding vilifying Driver, but the movie does it. I actually feel closer to Driver’s character when he says it.

How is that possible? The movie succeeds so much at convincing me that both of them love each other, and that makes me think that’s why they’re so thrown for a loop, so out of sorts. Sure, they have a different kind of love than what keeps a family together, but some kind of love, nonetheless. He’s grieving the end of their relationship. Driver immediately regrets what he said, is disgusted with himself, and apologizes; Johansson forgives him without hesitation. She knows how he feels. However oddly, they’re on the same page. And the movie ends with an even stronger sense of their being on the same page, despite how sure they are about divorcing.

My review is, please watch this movie. It feels like an authentic account of parents separating. More than that, it highlights parts that other movies and stories aren’t bold enough to try–the ugliest parts. In a world where divorce happens all the time around children, I think we could stand to be generally better emotionally versed about it for these kids. Even prepared to be these parents, to some extent. I’m writing as one of these kids, but I think there are plenty of other ways to relate to these characters. I say we make more movies like this one, making sense of love in marriage and divorce.