First unleashed on the festival circuit almost two years ago, it’s taken Francesca Gregorini’s The Truth About Emanuel (2013) a while to find its way to UK audiences, even now in its DTV form. Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is a teenage girl in a small American suburb who’s still broken from the loss of her mother. Living with her father (Alfred Molina) and her stepmother (Frances O’Connor), Emanuel is finding the struggles of teen life all the more challenging with the isolation her loss has caused. However, when a young mother, Linda (Jessica Biel), moves in next-door and is looking for a babysitter, Emanuel seizes the opportunity to meet someone knew and perhaps find the mother figure she’s been searching for.
The biggest problem with The Truth About Emanuel is that it struggles to decide exactly what it is it wants to be. For large parts of the film we’re presented with a dark-edged drama about loss, death and the pressures of motherhood, and how that influences childhood. Had it continued in the same vain throughout, we may well have been given a rich family tragedy. And yet, just as that drama starts to get up a head of steam it takes some very strange turns into black comedy that don’t sit well with the rest of the narrative, derailing proceedings more than it does to positively influence them. Gregorini certainly delivers a visually interesting piece – some of the underwater imagery borders on the breathtaking – and both the production design and cinematography courtesy of Anne Costa and Polly Morgan is fine throughout.
Also noteworthy are the performances from Gregorini’s cast, who are uniformly solid. Scodelario, whom UK audiences may know from her work on Channel 4 teen drama Skins, is very watchable in the title role, combining her beauty with the manic undertones of Emanuel’s fracture character. Biel, meanwhile, provides ample support alongside the young Brit, and her chemistry and relationship with Scodelario feels genuine to the last. Sadly, while the acting and technical aspects of The Truth About Emanuel deserve to be merited, with her sophomore outing Gregorini gets herself caught at a crossroads in terms of tone, leaving the film as a whole too far on the disjointed and fragmented side. Just about worth seeing for Scodelario’s turn alone, The Truth About Emanuel may well leave most viewers blindly groping around in its icy depths.