The Truth About Emanuel
3/5   aka: Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes
dir-scr-prd Francesca Gregorini
with Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Aneurin Barnard, Alfred Molina, Frances O'Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Anne Ramsay, Spencer Garrett, Kevin McCorkle, Sam Jaeger, Jonathan Schmock, Gabriela Dias
release US 10.Jan.14, UK 8.Sep.14
13/US 1h31
The Truth About Emanuel
Put your heads together: Biel and Scodelario

barnard molina o'connor
sundance london fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Truth About Emanuel Made with considerable skill and style, this offbeat drama struggles to find authenticity due to a combination of over-developed script and superficial characters. It has its moments, and is intriguing enough to hold our interest, but ultimately leaves us feeling empty.

As her 18th birthday approaches, Emanuel (Scodelario) begins her annual descent into angst about her mother, who died in childbirth. Her father (Molina) tries to be understanding, but his cheery new wife (O'Connor) can't help but make things worse. Then Emanuel meets the cute nice guy Claude (Barnard) on a train. And Linda (Biel) moves in next door with her infant daughter, asking Emanuel to babysit. But nothing is quite what it seems, and for Emanuel every day is a struggle to do the right thing.

The key plot element here is he fact that Linda's baby is actually a doll that she delusionally believes to be her daughter. And Emanuel decides to keep her secret, even though this causes a lot of additional stress. But then Emanuel never tells anyone how she's feeling about anything. All of this is further muddled by a dream her mother had before she died, which never really makes much sense and involves some underwater sequences with dodgy digital fish.

Yes, writer-director Gregorini fills the screen with things that are desperately trying to be deep and symbolic while generating a creepy operatic tone. The dialog strains to be dark and shocking, while the characters are a bundle of quirks (Biel's character is a 1970s-style earth mother). Everyone is over-dressed and over-groomed, styled to within an inch of their lives, but the performances are introspective and haunting, holding our attention even when things begin to feel vaguely pointless.

The main problem is that most of the characters are so unhinged that they're impossible to properly root for. Basically they all need professional help. A few comical side roles add some badly needed humour along the way (such as Simson's sex-toy obsessed pharmacist), and as the Emanuel's grip on reality slips further there are some startlingly moving scenes, most notably a gorgeous moment between Molina and Scodelario. But the film is so over-stylised that it's impossible to properly engage with.

cert 12 themes, language 26.Apr.13 slf

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