Sundance Review: Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes


Throughout the entirety of Sundance, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes was the only movie I didn’t take any notes on. I guess this is what is implied by “noteworthy,” and Emanuel is not. For the life of me, I couldn’t pick up my pencil and write anything of note, because something of note would have to exist in the first place.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes
Director: Francesca Gregorini
Rating: NR
Country: USA
Release Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

Emanuel is not likely to escape comparisons to Lars and the Real Girl (in which a man keeps a blowup doll for a girlfriend, insisting it’s real even as others point out it’s not) as it is a more dramatic take on Lars‘ plot. A few (non-notable) alterations, take out charmer Ryan Gosling, and you have a very similar film that is as dull and twice as slow.

Instead of a man in love with a blowup doll, Emanuel is centered around middle-aged “mom” Linda (Jessica Biel) with a doll for a daughter. The titular character (played well by Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario) is a snotty, young girl with clever lines delivered to whoever will listen, mostly her father, step-mom, co-worker, and some boy on the bus she sees everyday. With nothing better to do than be a jerk and dance around to French pop, she picks-up a new job as Linda’s baby sitter. After some puzzling scenes that heighten tension around this mysterious baby that is never witnessed, Emanuel finally gets to hold this porcelain doll. Instead of notifying someone, she plays along and embraces Linda’s maladjusted reality.

Like Lars and the Real Girl, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes stumbles around the same jokes and obstacles for the remainder of the film until the rote emotional climax. Emanuel is a joyless film with a dull finale, outside a neat dream sequence near the end that depicts Emanuel swimming in her house. Yes, the baby isn’t real and Linda thinks it is. I’m not sure if that’s funny the first time, but it’s definitely not funny the fifth or seventh. Maybe Emanuel and Linda unloading their troubled pasts would be cathartic if it weren’t so obvious from the start or so cliche when it occurs.

This review too is un-noteworthy. What can I say about a film that doesn’t stir me one way or another? I look at my notebook that reads: “Emanuel … Lars and the Real Girl.” The rest of the page is empty. And, so it is with the film.