"“An intriguing exploration of a troubled adolescent and the implications of growing up without a mother...”"

We recently saw the release of the absorbing and epic The Place Beyond the Pines, a film that explores the value and consequences of father and son relationships – or the lack of. Now Italian filmmaker Francesca Gregorini presents Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, taking a similar stance yet instead delving into mother and daughter dynamics. This may not be on the same level as the aforementioned film, yet it remains an intriguing exploration of a troubled adolescent and the implications of growing up without a mother. Just try and ignore the pretentious title.

Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is approaching her 18th birthday, and – as per usual – this time of year provokes many questions and intense, challenging thoughts for her, as the day she was born, is the very same day her mother died, and although being an accidental death during childbirth, Emanuel blames herself, citing herself as a murderer. Such emotions are intensified when a new neighbour moves in next door – single mother Linda (Jessica Biel), who bears a striking resemblance to Emanuel's dead mother. Offering to babysit for her new neighbour, Emanuel enters in to a deranged world and friendship unbeknown to her, which she balances alongside her new relationship with boyfriend Claude (Aneurin Barnard).

Although starting off as an offbeat, quirky teenage drama with a “misunderstood” protagonist, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes takes a somewhat dark turn, which gives this film a touch of innovation and gravitas. However, despite the unique themes being explored, Gregorini does struggle to shake off the pretentious, grandiloquent ways, particularly where the romantic narrative is concerned. The two contrasting cinematic styles may conflict against the other well, but the fact of the matter is, the disturbing, more sinister side to this film is far more interesting than the the kooky aspect, thus making it somewhat irritating when we reluctantly drop into the latter. The supposedly profound sequences get too abstract when a more thrilling turn would be favourable, as though the feature isn't quite playing to its strengths.

Although on occasion you can see the script with rather unnatural and stilted dialogue, the performances are impressive, particularly in regards to Scodelario, shining in her most prominent role to date. Biel also does little to offend, and although her acting ability is questionable at the best of times, one must admire her for taking on such a challenging and intelligent role that really pushes her boundaries. What is odd is how much of this cast are English, as the vast majority of the leading roles hail from the UK, such as Scodelario, Barnard, Alfred Molina and Frances O'Connor. Perhaps they should have just made this is England. Actually, on second thoughts perhaps it's better not to have us too closely associated with this one.

There is something memorable about this title, as a film that heads down some unexpected routes and manages to keep the viewer engaged. However on the whole it just can't escape from ultimately feeling quite irrelevant and moronic, becoming laughably absurd at points. To sum up what is wrong with this film, on Emanuel's and Claude's first date, they go to the supermarket and what do they buy? Brie, grapes and a French baguette. Do me a favour. They're 17 years old. Have they not heard of cider?