Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes: Francesca Gregorini’s Family Melodrama, Starring Molina and Frances O’Connor

Francesca Gregorini’s melodrama, “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes,” deals with familial grief and loss in a semi-serious, semi-original way, but not particularly deep or compelling.

“Emanuel” world-premiered at the Sundance Film Fest last year and is now being released by Tribeca Films in a platform mode.  Likely to be dismissed by most critics, the film has very limited theatrical audience, but should do better in VOD, DVD, and other ancillary.

Kaya Scodelario plays the titular role, an antisocial teenager whose mother died at her birth, an event we learn about in voice-over narration. Blaming herself as “a murderer without a motive,” she vents her anger at her father (Alfred Molina) and stepmom (Frances O’Connor).

Yet, unexpectedly, Emanuel gets attracted to a woman named Linda (Jessica Biel), who moves in next door with her child, Chloe.  Intrigued by the Linda’s physical resemblance to her late mother, Emanuel spends time with the strange femme, and in time the two develop a bond that becomes entwined in a secret that Linda harbors.

Volunteering for babysitting duties, Emanuel discovers that the “baby” is a facsimile doll, but she decides to protect Linda by perpetuating her delusion. It is not an easy task as Linda doesn’t think other people will notice Chloe’s plastic nature.

In its good moments (the first half), “Emanuel” is a stylized, darkly humorous tale trying to incorporate elements of surreal fable as well as suspenseful melodrama; you keep guessing what diection the story would take.  But overall, the film is not convincing on any level, and its straining to be poetic comes across as being pretentious.

The characters are narrowly conceived, particularly Emanuel and Linda, and it doesn’t help that the lead actors make them even less interesting.

This is Gregorini’s first solo feature, after “Tanner Hall,” which she co-directed with Tatiana von Furstenberg in 2009.  However, judging by what’ shown on screen, there is considerable gap between her level of ambition and level of execution.