CEUFF 2017: My Name is Emily
Though it had its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, “My Name Is Emily” has only last month reached the States in a limited theatrical release and for rental/purchase on Amazon, iTunes and VOD. It will also be screened tonight as part of the Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film is the feature-length debut of Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irish writer-director who has his own incredible story to tell that was made into a documentary entitled “It’s Not Dark Yet” (named after the award-winning book he wrote, which become a number one bestseller in Ireland), that premiered at Sundance this year. The book and the documentary detail how Fitzmaurice was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (ALS) and given four years to live. He wrote the screenplay for “My Name is Emily” and directed it entirely through the use of eye-recognition software. I learned this information after watching this film, but it reinforced how impressed I was by this feature.
Emily (Evanna Lynch, primarily known for portraying Luna Lovegood in the “Harry Potter” movies) has been living in a foster home in Ireland since her mother died and her father, Robert (Michael Smiley, “The World’s End“, “Kill List“) was institutionalized soon after. She has kept in touch with him and usually receives a birthday card each year from him. But when she doesn’t receive anything from him on her sixteenth birthday, she becomes concerned and decides to travel to the psychiatric hospital he’s at and break him out. Accompanying her is Arden (George Webster, soon to be seen int he upcoming “Megan Leavey”), a classmate infatuated with Emily and the only boy in her new school who doesn’t think she’s weird. With the help of Arden’s granny (Stella McCusker “Five Minutes of Heaven“), the two drive north and develop a gradual bond, as the two open up about their lives and both learn more about life, loss and friendship.
Right from the start, Fitzmaurice’s style feels undeniably refreshing as his camera focuses in on the titular character with reflective narration from Lynch’s Emily. We hear her throughout the film, often philosophizing, “If you hide from death, you hide from life,” and at times that narration gets picked up by Webster’s Arden and we see his perspective as well, but this is obviously Emily’s point of view – call it a coming-of-age tale, if you must. While it’s hard to believe 25-year-old Lynch is playing a teenager, her wide-eyed expressions and stubbornness fit the role well. Lynch is spot-on as an over-serious girl, who isn’t afraid to school her teacher in the ways of Wadsworth and has an affinity for Steinbeck. The combination of Fritzmaurice’s writing and Lynch’s performance really make Emily an enjoyable and engaging character to follow – it helps that she’s not a typically irreverent and intolerable teen.
The first half of “My Name is Emily” is really good. There’s a palpable tenderness established between Emily and her father that’s never saccharine or cloying, making their connection is quite enjoyable to watch. Fritzmaurice incorporates a combination of flashbacks, allusions, and additional philosophizing (passed on by her father, some of which comes across as confusing hooey, like the phrase, “a fact is a point of view,” which comes across as an excuse to do whatever you want to do) that could have easily felt pretentious or overboard, but his storytelling feels consistently genuine. His story could’ve developed the budding teen romance between Emily and Arden, but I’m glad it didn’t. We don’t need every box checked in these coming-of-age stories. The director also makes the most of his geography choices, employing cinematographer Seamus Deasy (who’s lensed John Boorman’s pictures) to capture the picturesque green hills of the Irish countryside and the roaring shores of the beaches. The second half of the film loses a bit of its stylish editing and introspective narration (that surprisingly works) as it gives in to typical road trip and paternal reunion conventions.
Nevertheless, the emotions and personalities in “My Name is Emily” feel real and authentic and it’s just so heartening to see a young actress headline such a tale, even if it is appropriately precious.
“My Name is Emily” plays tonight at 8:15pm. To purchase tickets, click here.