As a viewer, I personally feel I can only asked to suspend disbelief through so many layers of the narrative. I’m OK with quirky characters. I’m OK with pretentious teenagers. I’m OK with movie families that don’t quite seem grounded in reality but are ‘close enough’ for purposes of the story. But when you fold something like full-blown dementia into the tale I tend to draw a line. It isn’t because I don’t like stories that explore a curious mental state; I find them fascinating. Rather, I believe these tales need a very strong grounding in honesty for them to be relatable; if they’re not, then it all falls down like a cheaply built house of cards.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Emanuel (played by a comely Kaya Scodelario) is hardly your ordinary teenager. Her mother died giving birth to her, and that grim reality has colored how she sees the greater world-at-large. At work as a clerk in the town drug store, she’s smitten with the idea of constantly antagonizing her colleagues; and, at home, she’s always doing the same to her father (Alfred Molina) and stepmother (Frances O’Connor). However, a mysterious new neighbor named Linda (Jessica Biel) suddenly presents her with an unusual opportunity to confront the questions of her own quirky mental state while perhaps helping to save the woman from a devastating future.
I couldn’t begin to recount all of the problems I had with THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL in any concise fashion, but I will say this: writer/director Francesca Gregorini did an impressive job chucking everything put the kitchen sink in here. (Oh, yeah: there WAS a scene with the kitchen sink!) There are many film influences at work here. There’s also a willingness to discuss some very uncomfortable subjects like sanity and post-partum depression. Still, despite the overabundance of psychological moodiness, TRUTH feels surprisingly empty. Its stylish visuals only add up to a revelation that doesn’t so much involve Emanuel as it does Linda. Liking the characters but hating their predicament as much as I did was the only reason I hung with this thing for its largely uneventful 96 minutes.
As best as I can surmise, it would seem that Gregorini believes in a world wherein two wrongs make a right. Both of these lead women – Scodelario and Biel – are mentally troubled, far more than one assumes is the norm; but, together, they’re destined for a cure. For the life of me, I can’t see how two mentally-askew women (of this magnitude) is supposed to come up with a single sane mind, but I think that’s what the final scene intended audiences to take away from this. My experience in reality has been that two misfits holed up together generally is not a good practice, but, then again, I don’t live in the movies. I just write about them.
For the life of me I can’t quite figure out what the story meant to say about Linda’s character as an individual. Was her choice of denying reality the right thing to do? Why not? It worked for her. Isn’t that what message Emanuel delivers by helping her finally put it all to rest? Why do that? Linda wasn’t hurting anyone except herself, unlike Emanuel who wanted to constantly irk everyone around her. Is there union somehow what’s meant to be, or is it merely a film’s conceit?
Assuming that the director (who also produced, too) makes most if not all of the decisions involving a film’s many elements, Gregorini chose to have Biel portray Linda as a kinda/sorta New Age flunky with strong hints of a femme fatale. (???) She gives the woman a devilishly mild sexual undercurrent that still confuses me. She dresses Linda in some weird hippie stylings – well, so long as, say, Banana Republic gets into lounge hippie-wear – and adorns her house with elegant, high-end furnishings. None of the pieces to this puzzle added up to me, nor did they fact that she apparently has been on-the-run for as long as she has been, so how was her personal story even probable much less possible?
When I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of all of the individual pieces, then all I’m left with is the created whole – and the whole? I just couldn’t believe nor accept its simple final message. Without mincing words, I think the subject matter explored here was very important, very relevant. It’s this particular story that just felt more than a bit lost on me.
THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL (2013) is produced by MRB Productions, Pisces Rising Productions, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Producciones A Ciegas, Mott Street Pictures, and Votiv Films. DVD distribution is being handled by Well Go USA Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly shot character film with some very high quality sights and sounds. If it’s special features you want, then you have a director’s interview, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and perhaps the most painful and curiously inappropriate assortment of outtakes (less than a minute of them) to look forward to.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL is an oddity. It gets my award for the best misnamed film of the year mostly because there’s hardly any truth about Emanuel served up here – nothing in her life history has changed that I can detect … except maybe the development of some Mutant Age powers that gives her personal yet possibly inaccurate insight into the psychological deficiencies of others … and, even then, it isn’t as if she can do much about it. And what should we call her? DementiaGal? That just doesn’t sound right, not with this whole ‘War on Women’ frenzy currently afflicting society.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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