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.
It’s widely known that when Larry Hagman donned the ten-gallon hat once again for the first table-read of Cynthia Cidre’s pilot script for the 2012 TNT reboot of Dallas, he introduced himself thusly: “Larry Hagman. Icon.”
It’s hard to quibble with that. The relaunched Dallas sure hasn’t. Its hour-long farewell to J.R. Ewing Monday night was poignant, funny, and, above all, reverent for the character in its irreverence. For the actors involved, including Patrick Duffy, who considered Hagman his best friend, it must have been doubly painful because they, in essence, had to bury the man twice: once, after Hagman died of complications from cancer in November 2012, and again when they had to give his infamous alter ego J.R. an equally worthy send-off. Rather than the usual Dallas fanfare of a credits sequence, the theme music was stripped down to a few mournful, “Taps”-like horns before the montage settled on one last lingering close-up of J.R. as Hagman most recently portrayed him on the show—stern, wily, and sporting the wildest pair of eyebrows on TV since Andy Rooney.
In his old age on the new Dallas, J.R. once said “bullets don’t seem to have an effect on me.” Of course he was referencing the most buzzed-out cliffhanger in TV history: when he was shot by an unknown assailant at the end of the spring 1981 season. He survived that assassination attempt. But not this one. Indeed, it was a bullet that ultimately claimed J.R.’s life, when he was gunned down inside a Mexican hotel room after possibly having dealt with a cartel representative and definitely having had relations with a señorita of shady repute. Once again we have to ask the immortal question: “Who shot J.R.?”
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Always a step ahead, it seems J.R. knew in advance who was gunning for him and even left a note for his brothers Bobby and Gary, to that effect. Oh, that’s right. Ted Shackleford’s Gary Ewing, the black sheep of the family who sought refuge in Knot’s Landing, returned! If ever there were an occasion to reenter the Dallas-verse, J.R.’s death was it. On hand were also Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing, Bobby and J.R.’s niece; Cathy Podewell as J.R.’s second wife Cally; Deborah Shelton as one of his more memorable mistresses, Mandy; Steve Kanaly as Ewing bastard, and Bobby and J.R.’s half-brother, Ray; and most important of all, a sweet bottle of bourbon in Sue Ellen’s supposedly sober hands.
Ah yes. The moment we’ve longed for/feared is at hand. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has resumed her drunken ways. Bourbon and branch water are tempting enough on their own. Bourbon and branch water in a bottle marked “J.R. Ewing” is more tempting still. Bourbon and branch water in a bottle marked “J.R. Ewing” to be imbibed after J.R.’s death and following the reading of a weepy note from him? Totally irresistible. She’ll be back to Betty Ford before the season is out. Her one possible saving grace? She’s at least honest about the fact she’s off the wagon. “I think I have never wanted a drink more than I want one now,” she said at the funeral reception.
Mind you, there was another undesirable return at that reception: Ken Kercheval’s supervillain, Cliff Barnes. He burst in with the fighting words, “I came to pay my disrespects, and good riddance!” then proceeded to call J.R. a “junkyard dog.” He was subdued quickly enough and kicked out, and with no fisticuffs. I suppose Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) don’t have the stomach to fight an old man, even if he’s an old man hellbent on destroying their family. They didn’t feel the same way about a fellow (much younger) reception guest, however, who decided to call J.R. a “selfish prick.” That led to one of the best exchanges we’ve ever seen between Christopher and John Ross: the former backing off J.R.’s son with a gentle brush of his hand, saying “I got this, cousin,” then taking a slug at the foul-mouthed offender. What would a Ewing family gathering be without a few dislodged teeth? (Oh yeah, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban were also there, but somehow we think they avoided the melee.)
The burial itself, set to the old spiritual “Down to the River to Pray,” was a more moving affair. J.R. was a military man in his day, so he lay in a flag-draped coffin. Everyone had an opportunity to say a few words, and Lucy teared up when it was her turn. She said everything he did seemed so horrible when he did it, but with hindsight it had become apparent that he was the most honest person of all—because he knew what had to be done and did it. Christopher, J.R.’s nephew, said that, since he was adopted, J.R. only let him into the Ewing inner circle once: after his mom, Pam (Victoria Principal, notably absent) walked out. “I don’t know why she left,” J.R. told the grieving boy. “But you’re a Ewing now, so stop crying and behave like one.”
Sue Ellen, soused as can be, said J.R. was “the most infuriating, charming scoundrel [she’d] ever known. He was enough to turn a woman to drink.” Then, admitting that she was drunk even then, read his final letter to her, in which J.R. said his greatest hope in life was the possibility of earning a second chance with her. To start, he asked her out to dinner, if she’d be available upon his return from Mexico.
Bobby was a tad more reflective. “It’s always been easy for me to do good, because I could always count on J.R. to do bad,” he said. “But those bad things were necessary.” Does this mean that one of the most goody-goody characters in all of TV will suddenly take a little walk on the Dark Side, to fill J.R.’s shoes?
After the funeral, Ray and Gary met with Bobby, John Ross, and Christopher to go through J.R.’s effects. It turns out J.R. had recently gone to Abu Dhabi to put together an oil deal that he felt would lure Pam out of hiding. Victoria Principal has repeatedly said she will never return to Dallas, so why the show would decide to throw this particular red herring out there was surprising. As part of his will, he left a handgun for John Ross to protect himself from Cliff Barnes, who surely will be gunning for him. And finally, he left a note for Bobby that presumably named his killer. Bobby, maybe already embracing that Dark Side, decided that they would further the idea that J.R. had been killed randomly by a mugger, while they settled the score against his real killer, in the family way. “I knew you’d have one more up your sleeve, J.R….And it is a good one.” Maybe it was so good, that’s why this episode was called “J.R.’s Masterpiece.”
This was the perfect note for the departure of one of TV’s all-time greatest antiheroes: a note of intrigue. J.R.—and probably Hagman—wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT]
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.