Emanuel is a seventeen-year-old young woman who is still wracked with guilt over her late mother who died giving birth to her. She meets a boy on the train on her way to her job at a medical supply shop named Claude, with whom she becomes romantically involved. Emanuel is also living at her small home in Los Angeles with her father and her step mother, to whom she is anti-social with because she isn't anything like her mother and tries to accuse her of thinking she is a lesbian, as per her name being Emanuel, as her parents believed she were going to be a boy, as a way to justify her bitterness to her step mother.
The next night a woman named Linda moves into the neighborhood as Emanuel's new next door neighbor and she is shocked when she notices she looked just like her late mother. When Emanuel discovers that she is in need of babysitter for her newborn baby, Emanuel-despite her disliking of children-agrees, claiming she'll need the extra money for her souvenir collection but it's only because she wants to get to know more about the woman who looks like her dead mother. When Linda agrees to allow Emanuel to babysit her child, her interests are shattered when she discovered that the "baby" is actually a doll, and Emanuel believes Linda is mentally disturbed. But as Linda and Emanuel develop a friendship, Emanuel tries to hide the fact that Linda's "baby" is really a doll from others by not letting people near the "baby." But that task becomes increasingly harder when her best friend/co-worker Arthur from the medical supply store befriends Linda when she goes in to purchase a baby nasal aspirator, and agrees to substitute for Emanuel as the babysitter when Linda makes mention of being invited to Emanuel's birthday dinner and needing a substitute babysitter the night of the dinner.
Before the dinner, Emanuel's father tells her the story of her birth and her mother's death. This is something she makes her father do every year on her birthday, and she corrects his telling of the story several times. In the kitchen, while cleaning up the dishes, Emanuel's step mother explains to Linda that Emanuel is troubled and might be misinterpreting Linda's fondness for her (thinking that Emanuel has lesbian tendencies towards Linda). When saying goodnight to Claude, after the birthday dinner, Emanuel treats him rather harshly when he brings up that he's agreed to landscape for Linda. Emanuel thinks that he's following her everywhere because they met on the bus, he has been to her home a couple of times, and now he would be around while working for Linda. Claude tells Emanuel that she won't have to see him anymore and leaves.
Emanuel agrees to babysit when Linda goes on a date with Arthur. When Arthur and Linda return from the date,Linda suggests that Arthur go upstairs with her to see the baby, who Emanuel says is sleeping. Emanuel begs for Arthur not to go upstairs to see the baby but after Linda calls him up again, he heads upstairs and realizes right away that the baby is not real. Linda seems to finally realize that Chloe is a doll and begins to panic about where her baby is. Assuming that Emanuel must have replaced Linda's real baby with a phony one, they call Emanuel several times and ask her where Chloe is. After she tells them Chloe is in her crib, Arthur shows her that the Chloe that is in the crib is a doll, not a real baby, and demands to know where Linda's baby is. While Linda yells and threatens to call the police, Emanuel begins to have an emotional meltdown and takes the doll, resulting in her fainting. As she faints, she has a vision in which she holds tightly onto Chloe while water floods into the room.
Emanuel swims out of a window in the room into a deep body of water, still holding the Chloe doll. Emanuel swims for a bit and then sees her dead mother swimming a short distance away. The Chloe doll springs to life and swims to Emanuel's mother, who embraces the baby and swims away. Confused, Emanuel hears her name being called and swims away until she awakens on a gurney with her father and a police officer present. She is then taken to the hospital. When the officer asks Emanuel about the circumstances regarding the baby's disappearance, she claims the baby got away from her in the water and went to Emanuel's mom and that they both swam away.
Once out of the hospital, Emanuel visits Claude at his job and makes up with him.
Linda's husband is found, and he comes to town and explains to Emanuel and her parents that after spending a lot of money and time trying to conceive, they finally had a baby. The baby died, and with the autopsy results being inconclusive, no one knew what happened, but Linda blamed herself. After the funeral, which Linda would not attend, she began using a doll to replace her dead baby. When her husband tried to have her institutionalized, she disappeared with the doll, and he filed a missing person's report. Now that Linda has been found, she is being held in a psychiatric hospital, where she can only be visited by family. Her prognosis is not good.
Emanuel later asks her father for permission to go see Linda, but only for him to harshly tell her to end her obsession with Linda because she nothing like her mother.
Going against her father's bitter advice, Emanuel breaks into Linda's house and steals the doll. She then, with Claude's help, sneaks into the psychiatric hospital where Linda is being held and sneaks into Linda's room, where she tells her that her baby died from drowning, as Emanuel saw in her vision. When Linda asks Emanuel what happened to her baby, Emanuel describes the vision omitting the part about her own mom, as a way to explain Chloe's death. Emanuel then sneaks Linda out of the hospital and brings her to the cemetery where her (Emanuel's) mother had been buried. Because of how ironic it is that Linda's daughter is dead, and physically never was alive, and that Emanuel's mother died giving birth to her, Emanuel tearfully digs a makeshift grave over her mother's tomb and buries Chloe in it. The movie ends with the two women laying in the dirt, watching the stars in the night sky.Kaya Scodelario as Emanuel
Jessica Biel as Linda
Alfred Molina as Dennis
Frances O'Connor as Janice
Jimmi Simpson as Arthur
Aneurin Barnard as Claude
Rooney Mara was set to play the title character, Emanuel, before Kaya Scodelario replaced her as the lead.
Filming took place in Los Angeles, California, between 23 January 2012 and 26 February 2012.
"The Truth About Emanuel" premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013. The film was also shown at the Ashland Independent Film Festival in April 2013, the 2013 Bend Film Festival, in November at the Denver Film Festival, and in several other film festivals in US, UK and Brazil. The film was released in US theaters on January 10, 2014 and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on March 25, 2014.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 40% of critics gave the film a positive review with an average score of 5.7 out of 10 based on five reviews.
Writer, director and producer Francesca Gregorini earned a nomination at the Sundance Film Festival for 2013 Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic.
Francesca Gregorini also earned the Best Feature Director prize at the 2013 L.A. Femme Film Festival.
The film earned awards at the 2013 Ashland Independent Film Festival and 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival.