Review: The Truth About Emanuel (2013)

December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Emanuel (5/10) A seventeen year old girl named Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) with emotional scars from surviving child birth while her mother died takes a job babysitting for a new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel) who turns out to have some issues of her own.

The Truth About Emanuel examines two sides of one coin in the form of mothers and daughters struggling to connect with one another, both literally and figuratively. ‘Emanuel’ is a curious movie that seems at first to be a Lifetime Originals-quality ‘upper middle class suburban women in distress’ film with creepy male admirers and cheap scare tactics. It winds up being an interesting meditation on the emotional toll guilt takes on people and how we cope with insurmountable feelings of failure towards those we love.

Emanuel’s father (Alfred Molina) has recently been remarried to Janice (Frances O’Connor), seventeen years after his wife passed away in childbirth. He’s raised his daughter on his own and is sympathetic to the immense guilt his child carries with her. Unable to find work or purpose, Emanuel jumps at the chance to babysit for the new neighbor Linda, who is sunshine and rainbows, gushing about a newborn child whom she shuttles out of sight from people. Emanuel is quickly hired as Linda’s nanny, though Linda dotes on her daughter night and day and barely leaves the young child’s side for more than a few minutes. Emanuel must conform to Linda’s helicopter parenting style while also protecting Linda’s privacy from prying eyes in the form of her over-friendly stepmother.

Complicating factors is the cute boy Claude (Aneurin Bernard) on the bus to her day job, whom Emanuel flirts with in a cute but morbid fashion that should make those with an appreciation for black humor chuckle a few times. At work, she platonically flirts with her co-worker (Jimmi Simpson) who likes to spend most of his time in the stock room, avoiding customer interactions like the plague.

As Emanuel becomes increasingly immersed in Linda’s life and embraces Linda’s reliance upon her constant presence, it pushes others away and sends Emanuel into a tailspin of half-truths and confusing conversations until a shocking revelation forces a confrontation between what she and Linda have been hiding in the house and what the outside world understood of things.

I am being vague because to truly critique ‘The Truth About Emanuel’ would require MAJOR SPOILERS, which would also ruin the fun of watching the movie. It’s an intriguing little mystery and psychological examination of the many ways grief manifests itself, but to say anymore would ruin the fun of figuring out who’s the real protagonist and who the real villain is. Strike that- there are no good guys or bad guys, just people with varying grasps on their lives and sanity.

The Truth About Emanuel does not break any new ground, nor does it accomplish its goals in a particularly stellar fashion, but it does its job dutifully as a smaller psychological thriller is meant to do and the actors are all wonderful. Jessica Biel is practically a revelation as Linda, committing believably to this rather unbelievable woman and proving her worth as a thespian, while Kaya Scodelario, a young English actress, is a natural leading lady and primed for bigger and better things stateside, if she chooses. Oddly enough, Kaya’s film debut was in the Duncan Jones micro-budgeted sci-fi yarn ‘Moon’, which I referenced in my previous critique of ‘The Last Days On Mars’.

The Truth About Emanuel is not a slam-dunk by any means, but shows incredible promise on the part of the writer, director and two leading ladies. I look forward to seeing all of them in more polished work.

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