Emanuel wears a white lab coat for her pharmacy job, appropriate for a girl who’s constantly experimenting with the reactions of people around her, probing them to determine her own value. A troubled kid, she makes outrageous statements in order to shock, but doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in it.
She mostly wants to see reactions. Her mother died in childbirth, and Emanuel considers herself, in melodramatic, adolescent mode, to be her murderer. As Emanuel, Kaya Scodelario brings poise, humor, and sympathy to a character that might have been unendurably abrasive.
Emanuel is difficult, tormenting her stepmother, and continually interrogating her father (Alfred Molina) about the day of her birth. “Did you ever think what it would’ve been like if I died instead of Mom?” she asks him. It’s a question he seems to have heard countless times. But Emanuel’s also empathetic and, almost against her own will, extroverted.
She takes a job babysitting the infant of beautiful new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel) who resembles her dead mom and who shows Emanuel a lot of concern and affection — a source of maternal love she lacks. Emanuel discovers that the baby is one of those creepy, ultra-realistic life dolls, and realizes that Linda is swimming in a tormented, psychotic fugue.
Confused, Emanuel supports and reinforces Linda’s delusion. This is where the film could have upended believability, but the script’s grounding in character is solid. Despite the psychological extremes, writer-director Francesca Gregorini presents her characters as recognizably human balls of complexity, nudging but never forcing them toward a sad, beautiful conclusion.