Judge Gordon Sullivan says this is the best grief since Peanuts.
Two lives. Two voids. One secret.
Whatever one thinks of the question of pro-choice vs. pro-life, one thing is often under-discussed: just how difficult and dangerous pregnancy really is. Though it's a "natural" state, delivering a baby still kills a substantial number of women each year, all over the world. Many times the child can be saved, even if the mother can't, and it's from that strange perspective that The Truth about Emanuel opens. Though the film can't quite live up to the promise of the opening moments of Emanuel confessing to killing her mother, it is a strange little ride through magical cinema.
Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario, Skins) is a young woman obsessed with the fact that her birth killed her mother. When a new neighbor (Jessica Biel,Hitchcock) shows up one day, Emanuel finds herself reminded of her mother. Once Emanuel offers her services as a babysitter, she enters into the stranger world of intrigue and hallucination.
The Truth About Emanuel is a film about grief, about the feeling of loss so complete it threatens to drown. Rather than giving us another mopey teen drama, it takes a slightly more slanted approach—instead of seeing moping, we get the introduction of a mysterious new neighbor, one who ushers our heroine into a strange world of obsession. Throw in some hallucinations, and you've got a pretty weird take on the growing-up drama: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this ain't.
It's a big risk to take, hoping that viewers will put up with a more metaphorical treatment of the material. Luckily, The Truth About Emanuel has an excellent cast to keep all this craziness believable. Scodelerio keeps everything anchored as the damaged teen—she gets the tone just right, without restoring to obnoxious stereotypes. More surprising, though, is Jessica Biel. She's not often given challenging roles like this one, but she manages the mysterious, slightly sinister vibe with surprising ease. Alfred Molina as Emanuel's father is what really sells things, though. His character isn't that dynamic, but Molina's weight as an actor gives the film the grounding it needs to go off on its more crazy flights of fancy.
This is the first film Francesca Gregorini has directed on her own, and it didn't get the largest budget imaginable for a film that relies on hallucinatory CGI. Despite this limitation, The Truth About Emanuel (Blu-ray) looks solid with its 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. On the downside, the film can look a bit soft in some shots, contrast can be a bit dodgy, and black levels a bit blocky. However, overall the film looks good, with enough detail to show off the CGI and colors that pop appropriately. Though not a perfect transfer, it's very watchable. The film also get a solid DTS-HD 5.1 track to compliment the visuals. Dialogue is always clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get a bit of use here and there. The film's more hallucinatory moments are complimented by water sounds that offer good directionality and strong fidelity.
Extras are short: we get a 4-minute interview with Gregorini, which is fine in general, but shows that the writer/director is a bit more enthusiastic than articulate about her film. We also get 4 minutes of deleted scenes and a minute of outtakes. Finally, the film's trailer is included as well.
The major problem with The Truth about Emanuel is that it never quite finds the tone to have the impact it seems to be straining for. It's not the first film to try to understand teen angst by utilizing vivid or hallucinatory energy. Nor is it the first film to turn to horror tropes to try to understand the difficult transition to adulthood. Still, by adopting those elements alongside a narrative of tremendous loss, the film risks alienating viewers who either can't connect with the film's grief or its processing of it through horror.
Though Gregorini's interview could be better, it's a shame there aren't more extras on this disc. Considering the project's status as a labor of love, and the fact that Rooney Mara was originally going to play the lead, there's probably adequate material for a commentary, especially if Gregorini had an interlocutor to address.
The Truth About Emanuel is a film that requires viewers to trust that all the pieces will eventually fall into place. Though they do, not everyone is going to like the picture they eventually make. Thanks to the strong performances, though, the film is at least worth a rental for fans of the actors or of out-there takes on teen trauma.
Weird, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
• Deleted Scenes
Review content copyright © 2014 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.