Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Unfortunately saddled with one of those titles that leaves itself open to pun-filled reviews , there's not much truth to be found in The Truth About Emanuel, a film that's sadly unaware with how utterly ridiculous it comes across to the viewer.
The story follows Emanuel (Katia Scodelario), a surly teenager who's closing in on 18, but still feels pangs of guilt due to the fact that her mother died while giving birth to her. She takes out her anger on her new stepmom (Frances O'Connor), and her doting father (Alfred Molina) struggles to understand the fire burning inside his daughter. Emanuel begins to connect with her mysterious new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel), who Emanuel agrees to babysit for.
The film's twist, which is revealed within the first act of the movie, is that Linda's daughter isn't a real baby, but a doll that Linda thinks is real and is using as a coping mechanism. Not wanting to break the spell that Linda has cast on herself, Emanuel goes along with Linda's psychosis, and what follows is a ridiculous game of "keep away" (or, better put, "pretend the baby is alive") like some twisted, direct-to-DVD sequel of Weekend at Bernie's. Emanuel bends over backwards to prevent anyone to get a glimpse at the plastic baby, and the last hour of the movie feels like a rejected C-plot of the worst mid-'80s sitcom never created.
The film's two protagonists are flip sides of the same grief stricken coin. Emanuel is a daughter riddled with the guilt over killing her mother, while Linda's very being is swallowed up by the loss of her child. The film wants to say some very poignant things about loss and grief, but even without the fake baby plotline flinging the story down into the bowels of unintentional farce, the film's writing is still too blunt and sloppy to express its ideas well. The characters ring false and the script clunks and clatters its whole way through with groan inducing lines. Adding the baby plotline on top of all that ensures that almost nothing in this film that comes off as "true."
There is a film in here somewhere that could have carried the story about the coping mechanisms we build to escape our grief, but The Truth About Emanuel just isn’t self aware enough to know how ridiculous it comes across, and the cast just isn't up to task to sell a dramatic story that could have just as easily worked as the main gag in a backburner SNL skit.
Two orphaned kids Andi (Emma Roberts) and her mechanical whiz of a younger brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin) live in a foster home with a couple of aging wannabe rock stars (Lisa Kudrow Kevin Dillon) who are vehemently anti-pet. Running out of ways to keep their stray pooch Friday hidden in plain sight they stumble on to an abandoned hotel that turns out to be the perfect shelter for Friday – and transform the place into luxury accommodations for all sorts of unwanted pets they spring from the local pound and the streets. But can they stay one step ahead of the law while keeping this United Nations of dogs in line? Human actors don’t have a chance against the gifted assortment of canines. With dogs of every breed from a border collie who loves to herd sheep (don’t ask) to an English bulldog obsessed with chewing stuff the trainers deliver a cast that flawlessly pulls off every dog trick in the book. Fortunately Roberts (Nancy Drew) and Austin are winning and likeable as the two main kids who share a need for family with their four-legged counterparts. Kudrow and Dillon don’t get a whole lot to do in strictly stereotyped roles but Don Cheadle as the kids’ social worker adds a nice touch of dignity and warmth to the story. For his first American feature German director Thor Freudenthal got the supreme challenge: working with kids and animals. Getting this furry menagerie to act on cue could not have been easy but Freundenthal and his talented trainers make it look so. Particularly amusing are the various gadgets and elaborate contraptions Bruce builds to keep the doggies occupied and quiet -- including simulated car windows they can stick their heads out of portable toilets complicated feeding machines and on and on. Just like the current hit Marley & Me it’s a funny and heartwarming family comedy.