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Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Greta Scacchi, Alan Cumming Directed by: Douglas McGrath Written by: Douglas McGrath Rated PG Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

There is so much humor in the eccentricities of human beings. That's why films like "Emma" work - they have so much fun by simply observing the way people react to one another. "Emma", of course, is based on the novel by Jane Austen. Amy Heckerling's "Clueless" put a spin on this story by having it take place in contemporary Beverly Hills and used it as a platform to satirize the lifestyles of California teens. This film is a more direct adaptation of the novel, with Gwenyth Paltrow illuminating the screen in the title role.

The story begins at a wedding reception of a couple who were matched up by the young and attractive Emma Woodhouse (Paltrow). Emma considers herself an expert in the art of matching people together, and immediately after the reception, she has already picked out who the next two people to benefit from her matchmaking expertise will be. One is the very likable but slightly less attractive Harriet Smith (Toni Collette); the other is the somewhat handsome but slightly pompous Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming). Emma is convinced that these two will be the perfect couple. Of course, some disagree - most notably the charming Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam), who is a close personal friend of the Woodhouse family. But Emma pays no mind, and continues in her efforts to bring the two together. Of course, things don't go as she had anticipated, and the rest of the film follows Emma as she learns more about those around her, as well as herself and how to deal with the transcendent bliss and descendent nausea commonly associated with love.

Watching "Emma" is like listening in on a series of conversations that are simple, yet undeniably fascinating. The film isn't trying to hammer a point through to the viewer, but rather shows life in it's simplistic form and lets the audience listen in. Director Douglas McGrath has tremendous confidence in Austen's story as well as his actors, and is wise enough to just let it all unfold. The performances are wonderful; each actor bringing a unique quality to their role, thus adding the necessary ingredients to create a film that practically dances off the screen in it's vitality. All of this is held together by a wonderful central performance from Gwenyth Paltrow. Her character goes through a whirlwind of emotions, and we're right there with her the whole way - laughing, tearful, and constantly rooting for her happiness.

There is such a basic human need to be loved. Perhaps that need is derived from our basic human fear of not being accepted. We're so scared to let someone we love become aware of our flaws and insecurities, and yet we must do so. Because isn't that what we're looking for? Someone to love us at our worst? Someone who will look at our flaws and still love us anyway? Love is more than a feeling of overflowing bliss; it is a form of acceptance. It is an entity that we may lean on for support, learn from to gain insight, and embrace to give us courage. This is a film that truly understands that. My favorite line from "Emma" is spoken by Mr. Knightley, after Emma expresses her belief that others may have doubts about her being a good person: "The truest friends don't doubt, they hope." They sure do.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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