'Emily & Tim': Film Review

A heartfelt but puzzling experiment in emotional biography.

A dozen actors play a man and wife through more than a half-century of marriage.

Note: This film was originally reviewed at the Montreal World Film Festival, under the title Outliving Emily.

A fractured portrait of a marriage notable mostly for its longevity, Eric Weber's Outliving Emily checks in on a husband and wife six times over the course of a half-dozen or so decades. Rather than employing age makeup or seeking actors of different ages who resemble each other, the pic deliberately mixes things up, changing its characters' races and even sexual orientation on the fly. While the approach is less successful than in some similar experiments, it does introduce a novelty factor the otherwise plain film will require to draw viewers at fests — and allows for casting actors, from Zosia Mamet to Andre Braugher and Kal Penn, whose diversity should expand the demographics of its potential audience.

We meet the pair in the fifties, as college kid Tim (Thomas Mann) plays wallflower at a bar while his more aggressive buddies score with chicks. Nursing student Emily (Zosia Mamet) is quiet and older than the other girls, but not too shy to take Tim home and, after some bumps in the road, marry the future book editor.

The couple's union is already strained when we check back in with them, but Tim has for some reason become an Indian-American (Penn). Also unexplained is how the mild, seemingly decent kid became so inconsiderate of his wife and young daughter. As the couple continues to shed skin from episode to episode — transforming into gay men in the '80s, into black grandparents in the '90s — one presumes that the intent is to communicate the extent to which passing years change us. But Weber's execution feels arbitrary and false, and unconnected to the realities of the story he's telling: Though they both flirt with infidelity and unhappiness before settling in for the long haul, this couple's life together remains the same over decades to a greater extent than most marriages. A couple of themes string these acts together (Emily's persistent crush on Tim's preppy best friend, the awkwardness of their daughter's path toward adulthood); fleshed out in an Updike novel, this might be enough to capture a family's soul, but here it's pretty thin.

The film's obvious highlight is its framing sequence, in which a wonderfully bored Olympia Dukakis plays opposite Louis Zorich in the couple's final days. We return to these two in between each chapter, and it isn't just the extra screen time that makes them the most vivid embodiment of these two characters. Over the course of their lives, Tim and Emily are sometimes hard to care about. At the end, one wants them to stick around a while longer.

Production company: Tenafly Film

Cast: Olympia Dukakis, Zosia Mamet, Thomas Mann, Alexis Bledel, Kal Penn, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Braugher, Louis Zorich

Director-Screenwriter: Eric Weber

Producers: Josh Sugarman, Eric Weber, Adam Folk

Director of photography: Timothy Naylor

Production designer: Alexandra Schaller

Costume designer: Havi Elkaim

Editor: Adam Mack

Music: Ronan Coleman, Charles Goodan

Casting directors: Sig De Miguel, Lina Todd, Stephen Vincent

Sales: sean@tenaflyfilm.com

 

No rating, 89 minutes

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