Review: Many layers cover ‘The Truth About Emanuel’

Jessica Biel and Kaya Scodelario in "The Truth About Emanuel."
(Tribeca Film)

“The Truth About Emanuel” isn’t that she murdered her mother, as she claims in the film’s opening voice-over — a literary monologue that strikes too coarse a tone for the psychological nuances to come. Rather, her mom died in childbirth, adding a sad and bitter layer to her birthday cake each year.

As the 18th anniversary approaches, and with an eager new stepmom in the house, Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) takes unusual interest in the boho woman who moves in next door and bears a striking resemblance to her own mother.

The usually prickly Emanuel quickly volunteers to babysit for Linda (Jessica Biel, poignantly maternal) — an easy gig at first. In fact, it’s a while before Emanuel’s even around when baby Chloe is awake. That’s when she discovers a disturbing secret and further descends into the fantasy world of her new mother-friend.

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For all the emotions roiling inside Emanuel (and Linda too, it turns out), her supporting cast is disappointingly flat: Her dad (Alfred Molina) is unfailingly caring, her stepmother (Frances O’Connor) predictably whiny and pouty, and her Tobey Maguire-esque boyfriend (Aneurin Barnard) stalwartly forgiving.

But tackling the pain of motherhood and guilt of daughterhood, writer-director Francesca Gregorini builds unbearable tension into scenes that otherwise risk tilting toward melodrama and brings the eye of a fashion photographer to the film’s hallucinatory dream sequences.


“The Truth About Emanuel.”

MPAA rating: none.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle Royal, Los Angeles; Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.