Through the eyes of acerbic teenager Emmanuel (Kaya Scodelario) we are taken on a sincere and surreal exploration of motherhood and female bonding. This is Francesa Gregorini’s second feature film, executively produced by Rooney Mara, who was supposed to take the lead role but is replaced by the able Scodelario, and it’s a beautifully shot, well observed and elegant piece of filmmaking.
When the ethereal Linda (Jessica Biel) moves into the neighbourhood Emmanuel takes on babysitting duties for her, but with the absence of her own mother who died giving birth, also transfers her need for maternal bonding. Meanwhile her stepmother, played wonderfully uptight but not overbearing by Frances O’Connor, starts to feel envious of their relationship.
A hopeful and bittersweet story plays out as Emmanuel learns to deal with her abandonment issues through her relationship with Linda and new love interest Claude (Aneurin Barnard) who she meets on a train. Gregorini is dealing with issues of the heart and Scodelario slips perfectly into the role of the protagonist in transition. It’s coming of age, where the highly romanticised love story between boy and girl takes a back seat yet brings a carefree spirit to the film. The real love story here is between the women who strive to protect and care for one another and it’s deeply touching.
The initial set up as to the relationship that develops between Emmanuel and Linda requires a leap of faith from the viewer but all her motivations are believable. All the performances are affecting and there’s a real chemistry between Scodelario and Biel. Strikingly composed shots adorn the screen as sunshine beams through bay windows and dresses float across the attractive sets. Linda’s love of the past is reflected in her seventies attire, choice of music and the décor in her house and she’s an alluring presence thanks to an innocent yet disconcerting charm. When Emmanuel enters her house she arrives in a fantasy world where she becomes fierce protector to a tragic secret that haunts Linda’s every fibre.
The subject matter here comes from a personal place and Gergorini deals with maternal and mental issues in an earnest way. Obsession, confusion and love flood the screen through striking visual flourishes and excellent performances.