A troubled young woman becomes obsessed with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to the girl's dead mother.
'The Truth about Emanuel' is a rather misleading title for this indie coming-of-age drama dealing with loss and mental illness. Even the original label, 'Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes,' when the film made the rounds during the festival circuit is ambiguous and somewhat deceptive. Given the name, it's easy to assume the plot will revolve around a character called Emanuel, possibly a young teen boy hiding a deep dark secret of some sort. But the truth is the script by Francesca Gregorini, who also produced and directed, focuses on a socially-awkward but highly intelligent 18-year-old girl played by talented Kaya Scodelario. And the secret she possesses is both sad and disturbing while also incredibly irresponsible on her part.
By and large, the story does follow the slightly troubled Emanuel, who later explains to a boy on the subway why she was given the male spelling rather than the female: Emmanuelle. And to be perfect honest, it's pretty stupid excuse on the part of the filmmakers because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you expected a boy but had a girl instead, it's not that hard to keep the name but simply change the spelling. As far as her awkwardness, the character is often more of a smart-alecky brat with quick, witty remarks that are mean and demeaning to some extent. Despite Scodelario's performance — and she is quite terrific in the role — Emanuel is a bit of a jerk and not the kind to keep a movie interesting.
On the eve of her 18th birthday, the artless Emanuel spends much of her time — mostly through unimaginative voice-over where she feigns philosophical nonsense — contemplating her life. Many of those thoughts understandably revolve around her mother, who died at childbirth, and almost as if wanting to figure out what to do with that knowledge. So far, it makes her father (Alfred Molina) uncomfortable when she forces him to retell the story of his wife's death being the same moment of his daughter's birth. Emanuel is cold and churlish with her stepmother (Frances O'Connor), who tries desperately to get along with her, while boyfriend Claude (Aneurin Barnard) is genuinely intrigued and attracted to her, but who she keeps at a safe distance.
Where the film's title starts feeling a bit misleading is when Jessica Biel finally makes her appearance as next-door neighbor Linda, who recently gave birth but is living by herself in a beautiful Victorian house. Emanuel's fascination with Linda is not very clear at first, but we learn it's due to her uncanny similarity to the girl's mother. Things grow creepy and unsettling when we also discover Linda is hiding an incredibly alarming secret of her own. The story suddenly shifts its attention to the truth about Linda, and the bigger mystery is why Emanuel doesn't do or say anything to anyone about it. Is the film's title suggesting Emanuel's struggle for continuing Linda's delusions? And where in the world does fishing play a part? (Does Gregorini not know that "fish" is plural and "fishes" is actually a verb?)
It's all a bit confusing, at least to some small extent because we're really sure who the primary focus is. Clearly, we're meant to follow Emanuel, but the more interesting story is ultimately Linda and her very worrying secret. For the title character, her relationship with the grown woman is obviously a way to grieve and come to accept her life knowing her mother died at birth. Basically, it's Emanuel's chance to cope and find closure, and Gregorini does reasonably well at arriving at that conclusion — overlooking the one major flaw within the narrative, of course. The director also displays a few visually creative touches throughout 'The Truth about Emanuel,' but it's not enough to make the surprise all the more worthwhile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA brings 'The Truth about Emanuel' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a blue, eco-elite case with a shiny, lightly-embossed slipcover. After several skippable trailers, viewers go to a static menu with standard options along the bottom and music.
'The Truth about Emmanuel' debuts on Blu-ray with an attractive and sparkling 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Taken directly from an HD source, the picture shows highly detailed lines in the architecture of Victorian houses, around a variety of furniture and the surrounding foliage. Facial complexions appear natural with lifelike, revealing texture, exposing the tiniest wrinkle and blemish. Primaries are nicely saturated and cleanly-rendered while secondary hues are full-bodied and varied, providing a good deal of warmth to the 2.35:1 image. Polly Morgan's photography makes an interesting and handsome use of the teal-orange palette while displaying a crisp, well-balanced contrast and excellent black levels with strong shadow delineation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is on par with the video, yet it isn't quite as impressive. Overall, it's not a bad lossless mix, as it has its moments, but in the end, there's really nothing particularly noteworthy or interesting in the design. It's most admirable aspect is the music and song selections spreading into the rears, extending the soundfield nicely with satisfying effectiveness. Notwithstanding, the majority of the runtime is a front-heavy presentation, exhibiting a clean, detailed mid-range that's never pushed too hard. Imaging is decently broad, mostly when the music and action fills the soundstage, with excellent channel separation and well-prioritized vocals in the center. Low bass is generally reserved for the music, but it does the job adequately, providing some appreciable weight.
Ignoring the rather misleading and largely ambiguous title, 'The Truth about Emanuel' is a decently made indie mystery drama with generally strong performances. However, the film can't seem to decide whose story is more interesting: the title character's or the next-door neighbor's creepy secret. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and a good audio presentation. Supplements are very light and to the point with nothing that penetrates with insight. All in all, the best the overall package can offer is a rental, just for curiosity's sake.