The historical period drama “Emma and Jane” is a film that portrays the close friendship of free woman Jane Manning and Emma Smith, a leader of the latter-day movement.
The film is centered around the night following the death of Emma’s husband, Joseph Smith. Jane keeps Emma company during the night while the two watch over the body in their home. In the past, mobs have taken Joseph from her during the night and Emma is determined to not let it happen again.
The movie finds its strength in two main areas: a clever script and solid acting.
Jane (played by Danielle Deadwyler) and Emma (Emily Goss) do a remarkable job showcasing the strength it took to survive and to live by one’s own conscience during a time that was friendly to neither women nor blacks.
It is the strength and self-determination of these two women that cause them to draw closer together.
DEADWYLER’S JANE MANNING SHINES
Deadwyler, as Jane Manning, carries the film. She largely succeeds in portraying the complex character with a rich history.
There are several moments in the film where Deadwyler soars without saying a word. For example, in 1844 Illinois, a black person does not talk back to a white person. Deadwyler shows through non-verbal cues how dignified Jane was even while she bore the burden of being treated as less than a white person, even less than human, particularly by fellow members of her church.
GOSS BRINGS EMMA SMITH TO LIFE
Other actresses have portrayed Emma Smith. Emily Goss is arguably the best so far. Between Emily’s acting and the script, the film strikes a tender balance in presenting a woman who is naturally gentle, who must be a community leader, who must share her husband with the church and who now must deal with the painful loss of her husband.
The best scenes of the movie occur when it is just Jane and Emma on screen. The two women debate, disagree with and support one another. It becomes clear that this film has two main characters, not one main and one supporting.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
The movie finds a weakness in its nonlinear narrative style. The partly fictional narrative is told through a series of flashbacks.
The day Jane and Emma met, the developing friendship of the two women and the issues surrounding the death of Joseph are presented out of chronological order, leaving the viewer constantly putting together a puzzle in order to identify how the scene fits into the whole. The viewer is rewarded for making the effort to keep it all straight with a fulfilling emotional climax near the conclusion of the movie.
There are several moments in the film, some light-hearted and some heavy with drama, where the script gifts to the viewer a satisfying helping of ratiocination, like a hearty meal straight from momma’s kitchen.
NOTES FOR FAMILIES
There are multiple scenes where the film addresses adult themes.
The movie attacks racial issues head-on. There is an acknowledgment in the film that some church members were not as racially progressive as Emma and Joseph.
There is little in the film that would be considered objectionable. A single use of the n-word early on could be considered the most offensive part of the film.
The place of polygamy in the Smith household is not lightly passed over, nor was Emma’s unhappiness with it, being forced to share her husband.
“Emma and Jane” is rated PG for thematic material and opens in theaters in Utah on Friday.
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