This tragic event has left Linda in some kind of severe psychosis where she refuses to face reality and continues to take care of her imaginary child with breastfeeding, diaper changing and loving it completely. Emanuel, not wanting to break Linda out of this spell, decides to play along. This reveal happens about 30 minutes into the film and the remaining hour is spent like a dark, humorless episode of “Three’s Company” where every time Linda plans to bring the baby outside or invite Emanuel’s parents over to visit, Emanuel rushes in front of the door to stop her with some lamebrained excuse. A variation on these antics play out time and time again as the film drags on towards its inevitable climax. (At some point, her world is going to be shattered.) Along the way, Emanuel picks up a boyfriend (Aneurin Barnard) on the subway and begins to come to life a little bit. There are shades of “Lars & the Real Girl” here, but where that film skewed towards dark comedy (which helped temper its outlandish premise), ‘Emanuel’ is almost completely humorless.
This is the sophomore film from writer/director Francesca Gregorini (“Tanner Hall”) and there are some obvious growing pains. The performances are all pretty good – Alfred Molina in particular does nice work as an abundantly patient father – and a few wide angles aside, the direction isn’t a problem, but the screenplay unquestionably is. Emanuel’s dialogue sounds like Lydia Deetz from “Beetlejuice” as filtered through “Juno,” which is never convincing and always sounds like a screenwriter who hasn’t quite found her voice. There are clichés (“It’s like you live in your own private world”), general frustrations (why on Earth would Molina’s sensible father humor his daughter by continually recounting the story of the day her mother died?) and an overall misunderstanding of her own characters. It’s fairly clear that Biel’s character needs to receive real psychiatric help but the film and filmmaker seem to want to indulge her in the idea that she should be allowed to live in her fantasy world. Unfortunately, as the audience, we cannot. [C-]