DVD REVIEW: THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: FRANCESCA GREGORINI / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: KAYA SCODELARIO, JESSICA BIEL, ALRED MOLINA / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 8TH
The Truth About Emanuel is Francesca Gregorini’s second feature film following 2009’s coming-of-age-drama Tanner Hall. Like Tanner Hall, it is concerned with sexuality and attraction and not without its Sapphic elements, but it’s more a study of maternity than desire.
Emanuel, played by Skins’ Kaya Scodelario, is a confrontational, closed-off and intelligent seventeen year old, disenchanted with life and unable to get over the fact that her mother died giving birth to her. In many ways the character is like Stacy Martin’s in Nymphomaniac. Though Emanuel is not as compulsively driven toward sex, the characters are fundamentally the same, damaged and out of place.
Linda, the New Age-inclined, upper middle class neighbour played by Jessica Biel, becomes the mother Emanuel never had. The film follows their gradual dependency on one another, and their unconventional relationship. Gregorini’s script (based on a story written with Sarah Thorpe) does a decent job, though she struggles to make the audience warm to Emanuel. Alfred Molina plays Emanuel’s father, demonstrating his versatility as an actor, but even a good performance from him isn’t enough to get you emotionally invested.
It’s an unconventional discovery of self, not unlike This Must Be the Place, with arty pretensions (it manages to stay on the right side of precious, but just barely). Ultimately it’s a story of motherhood, and the finesse with which it’s articulated is impressive, though it’s little more than a second-rate Sofia Coppola film.