Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match...
Good acting and costumery
Requires a scorecard to keep straight - fairytale ending - too long
The Bottom Line:
The only thing saving this movie from a lower rating, is the acting, which was strong though syrupy sweet.
Emma Woodhouse (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is a charming and charitable young woman of means, circumstance and leisure, in the countryside of Victorian England. Having seen her governess find "eternal happiness" in the bonds of holy matrimony, she avows herself to find a match for her endearing new friend, Harriet Smith (played by Toni Collette, who also played an underdog in "Muriel's Wedding"). She first tries to match dear Harriett with Mr. Elton, the vicar, who finds he's more enchanted with Emma, though Emma is so consumed with matchmaking, she never sees his affections for her. She mistakes them for affections for Harriett and when she realizes her mistake, she avows to no more matchmaking, since her insistence with Harriet made the poor girl turn down the only marriage proposal she was likely to get, as she had parents of a questionable nature (in other words, she was brought up by a Lady of means, and no one knew who her parents were or whether they were really of a gentlemanly nature) and poor Harriett had put all her faith in Mr. Elton. Well, reality bore a blow hard for Harriet and Emma both as they went on to learn about love, marriage and the joys of friendship.
Emma seems so tied up in figuring everyone else's life that she seems nearly stupid at figuring her own out. Of course, eventually, it's laid out for her and all the people get whom they deserve, more or less and no one is left an old maid at the end, except well, the old maid that was an old maid in the beginning of the movie and dare shall we say, will remain as so, and, pityingly, expectedly so.
This movie isn't so much a comedy as it was forecast, but a syrupy sweet romance. I didn't laugh once, I had very little feeling for any of the characters (save for poor Harriet, I am such a sucker for an underdog) and while the acting of all was superb, I just didn't care what happened to any of them. The movie was about half an hour too long and what needed to be said and done could have been accomplished quicker without losing any of the feeling, since there was so very little of it to begin with.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a very convincingly sweet (syrupy so) Emma who seems truly unaffected by reality until it's thrust upon her in as obvious a nature as possible. Her sweet nature is balanced by Toni Collette's, Harriet who is more down to earth (which Emma may see as a flaw but works nicely for Harriett in the end). Based on a novel by Jane Austen, it highlights high society in England at that time, however, how true to reality it is, I can't say. It's hard to believe anyone's life could circle around the leisure arts as it were (music, embroidery, drawing, picking strawberries) but I suppose it's not bad work, if you can get it.
I suppose anyone who found Shakespeare in Love fascinating would thrill at this movie. I wouldn't call it a waste of time per se, but it's definitely not a movie I'd pay to see. One should not be tired, as keeping up with the characters, their names and relations is a bit of a chore and for some could prove to be a bore. But if you like lighthearted romantic movies (comedy still really doesn't fit this movie, though it's not really a drama either) you're in for a treat! Definitely not for most men, I dare say either as it goes a good step beyond chick flick and heads right for the romance category.