Film Review: My Name is Emily

An emotion-filled coming-of-age drama that’s more impressive for the filmmaker’s personal efforts to get the movie made than the actual film itself.
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On the surface, My Name Is Emily may seem like just another coming-of-age road-trip film, but it’s also the feature debut of Irish storyteller Simon Fitzmaurice, who was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (ALS) and whose journey to make this film despite being entirely paralyzed (using groundbreaking technology) was covered in the recent Sundance doc It’s Not Yet Dark.

Sadly, Fitzmaurice’s brave personal story to make his first feature is peripheral, and though that fact can’t be completely forgotten once you know it, the film really needs to be rated on its own artistic and cinematic merits.

In this fictional memoir, the title character is played by Evanna Lynch—best known as Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter movies. Lynch has a pleasantly lilting voice that’s almost soothing to listen to as she talks about her memories, especially those of her author father Robert (Michael Smiley from Kill List), who is institutionalized a few years after the death of her mother. As Emily grows up without parents, she suffers from depression and gets herself into trouble.

The film then switches the narrative to George Webster's Arden, an amorous classmate who is quite infatuated with Emily, and whom she convinces to help find her father, driving around the countryside in an ostentatious yellow car.

The sad fact is that much of My Name is Emily just isn’t particularly interesting, especially if you’ve seen other coming-of-age road movies like this... and there have been many. At times, the film feels like it’s based on a young-adult novel, because Emily often acts like the type of bratty teen know-it-all we often see in those adaptations. Countering that is the lyrical and literary nature of Fitzmaurice’s writing, especially in the memoir-like narrative that sadly vanishes once Emily’s road trip begins.

Lynch is a decent enough actress, but not quite on par with her country-mate Saoirse Ronan, who could very well have brought more depth to the role. But she does show potential as a leading actor, and her chemistry with Webster is solid enough to make you believe their relationship and enjoy their time together on the road, even if the emotional range displayed by the two actors seems fairly muted.

At times, there’s a danger of the film feeling a little too precious or even pretentious—partially because Fitzmaurice’s dialogue sometimes feels stilted, as if he’s trying too hard. Things really turn around for the better once Emily is reunited with her father, as the more experienced Smiley brings more out of Lynch than her younger co-star.

Much of the film is given a hyper-stylized look by Fitzmaurice and his DP Seamus Deasy, the washed-out and exaggerated colors making it feel a bit like Asia Argento’s The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, another fictionalized memoir. The musical choices also help give the film its own distinct identity, as Fitzmaurice has a good ear for picking the right song to help set the mood, although at times you’re reminded how much better Sing Street director John Carney is at this sort of thing.

Aside from the filmmaker’s miraculous ability to get this film made despite a potentially debilitating situation, My Name Is Emily takes its sweet time before audiences can connect to it in the way the filmmaker intended, but ultimately the emotional content of the last act wins you over.

Click here for cast and crew information.