‘My Name is Emily’ shows us exactly why every father is terrible

Has there ever been a positive father film?

This review is from our continuing coverage of Sydney Film Festival over the next month. Check out the rest of the content here

Evanna Lynch stars in a dreamy road movie/coming of age mashup that fails to take her beyond Luna Lovegood’s manic pixie dream girl shenanigans. As the titular character of the charmingly whimsy My Name is Emily, written and directed by Simon Fitzmaurice, is a Lynch, worried about her institutionalised father (Michael Smiley, Perfume, Rogue One), runs away from her foster parents to visit him. Aided and abetted by a boy from her school, Arden (George Webster, Versailles), they drive across Ireland to find out what’s happened to him.

Beginning with an opening monologue from Emily, the film continues as a quiet, understated piece of art, replete with gentle imagery and breathtaking shots of the Irish coast. Seamus Deasy’s gorgeous cinematography is paired perfectly with Stephen McKeon’s score, creating a lushly saturated landscape that dances alongside the tiny yellow car as it crosses the country.

As the pair progress in their travels, more and more of Emily’s father leaks out into the story, and his presence becomes palpable long before the film meets him. Fitzmaurice does an incredible job of balancing the physical absence and philosophical presence of Robert (Smiley), who is a larger-than-life character, and presented as an unending force for good not only in Emily’s life but in the world at large.

The sheer desperation of Emily’s loss and loneliness haunts the film. All her interactions with Arden, who has been swept up in this whirlwind ride, are tainted by her inability to express the importance of Robert to her life, and his inability to understand her pain.

Webster’s comedic timing is a real high point of the film, never oversold and always perfectly hitting the moment. Another unsung hero of this tight knit cast is the brief appearance of Arden’s “truly Irish” grandmother, who has an uncanny knack for reading people and sets the two young runways off on their journey with a tent, the suit her husband proposed to her in, and a car with a gun in the glovebox.

Disappointingly, the disability politics of the film were confused at best, with questions of Robert’s sanity, and, indeed, the power and purpose of forced institutionalisation, left essentially unconsidered, and used solely as a vehicle for exploring the separation of father and daughter. Without considering these issues, much of Robert’s characterisation feels skin-deep, and Emily’s probing questions are left without answers.

But that does not take away from the film’s visual spectacle. My Name is Emily is an enjoyable and outstandingly beautiful, if slightly meandering, romp through Irish adolescence.

My Name is Emily screens at Dendy Cinemas on 15 & 16 June. You can buy tickets hereThe session is open-captioned and wheelchair-accessible.