Published Sep 15, 2015Though comparisons are often considered bad form, it's hard not to acknowledge the structural and thematic similarities between Simon Fitzmaurice's accomplished first feature, My Name is Emily, and Abe Sylvia's road trip comedy, Dirty Girl. They both have a somewhat learned, irreverent sense of humour and feature a young woman travelling across the country to find the father that abandoned them with a passive, newly acquainted male companion in tow. They also both touch on the notion of sexual liberation as a chief instigator of personal enlightenment, flipping the bird to a repressive, shaming society.
The big distinction — outside of the homosexuality and occasional stripteases in Girl — is that Emily's thwarting of social norms is communicated in philosophical terms, through pointed conversation, whereas Dirty Girl was more prurient and overt, radiating an "I don't give a fuck" attitude.
Simon Fitzmaurice, whose novel, It's Not Yet Dark — a powerful memoir about his journey after being diagnosed with ALS — is highly regarded around the world, has crafted an assured cinematic debut with Emily. It's a road trip comedy and coming-of-age story about a young woman — the titular Emily (Evanna Lynch) — travelling across Ireland to reunite with her father (Michael Smiley), who we learn has been committed to a psychiatric institution. Her mother died years prior — presumably being the instigator for her father's mental unravelling — leaving her with foster parents and having to re-enter the public education system after being home-schooled for some time. This is where Arden (George Webster) comes into the picture; he's curious about the socially awkward newcomer, and tags along on the trip to escape his own familial histrionics.
Like most road trip movies, the core ideas here are about making the most of the journey, as the destination may very well be a disappointment. But while this drama about fallen idols and crushed ideals progresses, there's an abundance of sober dialogue about the limitations and absurdities of conventional thinking, which distracts from some of the more erratic adventures that pop up along the way.
Emily, not having a great understanding of social niceties or knowing how to paraphrase and engage a companion, often inadvertently patronizes Arden ("A fact is just a point of view") and communicates her ideas either bluntly or in fragments. She also doesn't have an aptitude for asking questions or putting others at ease by reassuring or validating their worldview, which makes for an occasionally hilarious, but more often socially telling, dynamic. As much as her thinking challenges Arden's complacency — looking at things from the outside, she's able to see their frivolity and inherent flaws quite easily — he also challenges the underlying self-serving philosophies of her father, pointing out the folly in indulging at the expense of the comfort and/or safety of others.
While this dialogue isn't exactly breaking new ground (it's like a cursory guide to the works of Paulo Coelho), it is an extremely apropos concept for the metaphorical journey these teens are taking towards confronting the truth of it all (both figuratively and literally).
Much as she did in the Harry Potter films, Evanna Lynch inhabits this sort of awkward but wise persona well; it's seemingly how she naturally carries herself. Nothing about her pontificating seems forced or pretentious at all: it's quite natural and delivered with the casual ease of someone discussing how they might bake a cake or get to the nearest supermarket. Similarly, Fitzmaurice's depiction of such discussions and human idiosyncrasies isn't hyperbolized or unnecessarily goofy. There's a matter-of-factness about it all that makes this off-kilter world status quo within the context of this work.
Some of the later diversions, such as a highly dramatized method of distraction Arden uses at the psychiatric hospital, are a tad cheesy, but this temporary off-putting feeling is quickly remedied with clever dialogue and thoughtful composition. There's also a bit of a question mark with the ending as well — it's maybe a bit obvious and anti-climactic — but it fits the trajectory of the story and resolves everything efficiently.
Despite these minor quibbles, My Name is Emily does have the same sort of quiet wisdom and accessibility that made Dirty Girl so watchable, but this coming-of-age story is a bit smarter and is definitely more maturely framed. (Newgrange Pictures)