The Truth About Emanuel, writer/director’s Francesca Gregorini sophomore effort, is a puzzling sort of film. Not in a bad way but also not in the best of ways either.
Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario from the U.K.’s Skins) is seventeen years old and thinks she’s not supposed to be here, as in alive. She’s walking around with the guilt of her mother dying while giving birth to her and she’s carrying this notion that she’s a “murderer.” That’s heavy stuff for a young girl to deal with and as the story begins, she’s in full-on ‘acting out’ mode, Not in the rebellious sense, more of a shock value sense (like telling her step-mother about a recent sex dream.)
When the new neighbor, single mother Linda (Jessica Biel), says she’s looking for a babysitter, Emanuel agrees to help out. Linda’s a doting and protective mother who seems a bit off. She wears long flowing dresses and non-period clothes and always has a faraway look in her eyes.
We quickly find out the reason why she seems so odd: Her baby isn’t real. It’s a doll.
Emaunel’s discovery of the fake baby doesn’t push her away from Linda though; it brings her closer and makes her more protective. She makes huge efforts to always get in the way every time Linda might show off the baby to someone.
Is the reason she’s doing this because Emaunel is a bit off as well? She’s randomly seeing things that aren’t there. Is she damaged the way Linda is? Is that the truth about Emanuel?
Unfortunately, the truth isn’t all that interesting. I kept waiting for some ‘a-ha’ moment in her story but it never arrived. The real truth lies in Linda and why she’s caring for a doll-baby. And when we find that out, that’s the best moment of the film.
The film starts off great; a psychological drama that seems to be adding the building blocks of its story in perfect place. As the film unfolds though, we begin to realize that the story isn’t as deep as we think it’s going to be and the easily wrapped up ending disappoints.
The performances are all fine. Scodelario and Biel work wonders with some of the stilted and clichéd dialogue and it was nice to see Biel in a role she doesn’t usually get to play. Her moments after the baby reveal are quite good. Alfred Molina, as Emanuel’s put upon father, is always a joy to watch. He took a character that we’ve seen hundreds of times and made it solely his own.
Gregorini’s story about loss and how people deal with it is like an English language foreign film. The way it feels and its style and story reminded me of late 1970’s French films I watched back in college. Not that that is a bad thing. In fact, it made it more interesting. I’d love to see what she does next because she’s definitely an original voice.