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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe


Earlier this year, I had the occasion (read: an excuse) to rewatch several of the feature-film adaptations of Emma. I reconfirmed the genius of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. I rediscovered the eccentric but intriguing charms of Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 Emma., starring Anya Taylor-Joy. And I remembered why I was never a big fan of Douglas McGrath’s 1996 version, with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role.


For me, the McGrath-Paltrow Emma is safe, bland, and uninspiring, incapable of reaching either the satirical heights or the emotional depths of the novel. Pretty enough, but lacking in edge. It’s the epitome of meh.


Apparently, my view was shared in high places—or so we might conclude from a recent interview that Paltrow gave to the YouTube show Hot Ones, during which celebrities answer questions while eating chicken wings doused in ever-hotter varieties of hot sauce. (Yes, this is really a thing.)


During an episode posted last month, host Sean Evans asked Paltrow to confirm a rumor that then-President Bill Clinton had dozed off during a White House screening of Emma. (It’s at 9:28 in the recording.) “True!” Paltrow says, laughing. “He was snoring right in front of me. I was like, ‘Wow, I guess this is going to be a real hit movie.’ But it was, so fuck you, Bill Clinton!”


Still, perhaps Paltrow took the whole episode a bit too personally. The summer of 1996 was a busy one for Clinton: His welfare-reform bill was nearing passage, his affair with Monica Lewinsky was ongoing, his re-election campaign was gearing up, and the author of the political roman à clef Primary Colors had just been unmasked. Does Clinton have excellent taste in Austen adaptations? It’s possible. But maybe he was just tired.

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