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Emma 2

An archival review of Emma 2.

Emma 2: Gwyneth Paltrow Glows as Emma

By Ingrid Randoja
NOW
1996

Gwyneth Paltrow is ready to lose her People Magazine moniker, that being Brad Pitt's girlfriend, in favour of one she's earned - gifted actor and rising star. Paltrow is the star of Emma, writer/director Douglas McGrath's brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen's wonderfully sly comedy of manners.

Emma Woodhouse is a well-educated, upper-class 22 year old who, although a stranger to true love herself, believes she is eminently qualified in the art of matchmaking. She's a busybody with a sweet side, a woman who negotiates Austen's world of topsy-turvy romances with grace but has difficulty seeing into her own soul.

Paltrow was born to play the part. The way John Goodman was born to play Fred Flintstone, George Clooney to play Batman, Paltrow entered this world as Emma. Still in her early 20s, Paltrow carries herself with elegance and style. Her long neck and thin, brittle figure are reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn - circa Roman Holiday - and her voice has smoke and honey tones.

Stylish mouthpiece

Seated in a small conference room in a swank Beverly Hills hotel, Paltrow talks to a table of journalists about her first leading role - in this her 10th film - and the pleasure of becoming Austen's stylish mouthpiece.

"It was fun to play Emma because I don't think I share many qualities with her. I'm certainly not a matchmaker and I don't meddle in people's lives," remarks Paltrow.

"But she's very spirited, thinks she knows everything, and I really love and appreciate all her faults. I think it's really important to see a film heroine who's not perfect, who makes mistakes, feels the pain of those mistakes and ultimately learns and grows from them.

Paltrow, the daughter of actor Blythe Danner and TV producer Bruce Paltrow (St. Elsewhere, The White Shadow), was born in L.A. and moved to New York at the age of 11. An art history degree fell by the wayside when she quit college to become an actor, and since her debut in the forgettable John Travolta film Shout in 1991, she's steadily climbed the acting ladder with parts in Flesh And Bone, Jefferson In Paris, Seven and The Pallbearer.

During the casting for Emma, writer/directed McGrath wasn't sure an American could play the English lead, but a friend told him about Paltrow and suggested he look at Flesh And Bone, in which she uses a regional Texas accent.

Perfect accent

McGrath, who grew up in the area where the film is set, was stunned at Paltrow's pitch-perfect accent. Not only was she physically right for Emma, she had an ear for dialects.

Paltrow's decision not to copy any single English accent, but instead simply flatten out her own American voice, was an inspired choice, though Paltrow was nervous at the outset.

I tried not to think about it. When we did the first read through I was nervous, because I was doing the accent and the British cast members were there. I was thinking I had no business being there.

But then Phyllida Law (Emma Thompson and Sophie Thompson's mother), came up to me and said, 'You don't have to worry about your accent. Put it out of your head, it's just perfect.' And by the second week of shooting, the crew was teaching me cockney rhyming slang.

It's ironic that Paltrow is playing a movie busybody while in real life she works to avoid the prying eyes that follow her and boyfriend Pitt wherever they go.

We do joke about it. Last night we were outside sitting by the pool and we said, 'It's been a long, horrible day. Let's get in the jacuzzi.' It was pitch black, but I'm going, 'Wait a minute! We better go put on bathing suits.' We're in our own backyard, it's pitch black and it's possible that someone could be in the bushes with an infrared camera.

Review

In Emma, based on Jane Austen's dazzling comedy of manners and romantic mixups, 22-year-old Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) plays matchmaker to her friend Harriet Smith (Muriel's Wedding's Toni Collette).

The clever, self-satisfied Emma means well, but her ambitious choices for the lower-class Harriet - the slippery Rev. Elton (Alan Cumming) and the rakish Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor) - can only lead to disaster.

Emma's pursuits are watched by her adoring brother-in-law Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam), her former tutor Mrs. Weston (Greta Scacchi), the talkative spinster Miss Bates (Sophie Thompson) and the sharp-tongued Mrs. Elton (Juliet Stevenson).

First-time writer/director Douglas McGrath ties together the many threads of Austen's book with ease. His script understands Austen's multilayered universe, where what is said aloud never quite means what it should and the unspoken hangs in the air like the scent of dying flowers.

Paltrow is superb. She was born to play Emma. Just take a look at the scene in which she offends poor Miss Bates - a flash of panicky remorse moves across her face, then haughty resolve and then another moment of uncertainty. Her face is a canvas for Austen's many emotional shades.

The supporting cast is also magnificent, especially Northam, Thompson and Stevenson, who bounce off Paltrow's sly style and sharp wit.