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Fairy Tales for Emma (Ema’s Fairy Tales) (Pohádky pro Emu) (2017)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Romantic Comedy and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: April 8th, 2017 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Rudolf Havlik Actors: Ondrej Vetchy, Anna Geislerova, Ema Svabenska, Vilma Cibulkova, Petra Buckova, Jiri Dvorak, Vera Kresadlova, Anna Polivkova

P

etr Miller (Ondrej Vetchy) is in the Czech Republic for work with the immigration department, but he’s all set to return to his home in England. Suddenly, a call from the hospital informs him that a woman from his past, Ms. Pospisilova, has been critically injured in a car crash and she’s not expected to recover. During her ambulance ride, she insists that Petr should be contacted to take possession of her 8-year-old daughter, Ema (Ema Svabenska) – a child she had with Petr but never told him about in the nine years since they parted ways. At first he assumes it’s a mistake; but as a middle-aged man always too consumed with work to think about a family, he becomes intrigued with the notion of taking care of the little girl. After all, it’ll only be until Ms. Pospisilova gets better – or so he weakly tells himself.

The girl is perfectly precocious and the spontaneous father figure is calm and kind and gentle. It’s a perfect setup for a lighthearted drama, wherein Petr can recoup lost time as a surrogate parent, and Ema can become the catalyst for misadventures and the eventual completion of a family unit. Ondrej is sensational in the lead role, exhibiting the right amount of nervousness, generosity, anger, sympathy, and fear – all qualities associated with spontaneous parenthood. He’s something of an equivalent to Robin Williams in his various roles as a father, though Vetchy is considerably subdued and drops the flamboyant caricatures that made Williams so iconic. Plus, the antagonist here is not purely evil; rather, she’s just doing her job and she’s even understanding of the situation, going so far as to let certain offenses slide.

Amusingly, the opening scene shows an immigration issue that appears to have nothing to do with the story proper. It is, in fact, rather severe and humorless. But, in that subtle yet resounding way, its significance comes back later in the picture for a welcome but nevertheless harrowing new predicament. There is already the looming possibility that Ema isn’t actually Petr’s kid, which can be proven with DNA testing. But then there’s the welfare system in the Czech Republic, which looks unfavorably upon those who do not live in the country and who aren’t married (cuing the need for a fake wife – exactly the thing Petr works so hard to uncover in his profession). Clearly, a man and a woman together is the only ideal situation for adoption in this uncompromising setting.

Additional subplots generate comedy and romance and quirkiness, such as when a Hotel Adria desk clerk occupies herself by always being on the lookout for a match for friend and manager Marie Urbanova (Anna Geislerova), a pretty redhead who is obviously perfect for Petr but is instead the perpetual target of married men. Or when Ema turns into a matchmaker, imparting further wryness into the complicated scenario. And there’s even time for Eda the guinea pig to escape to cause some mischief. For the heartwarming side, Ema implores Petr to regale her with a different fairy tale every night in the hope that she hears one she’s never heard before. Of course, the main conflict arrives in the form of keeping Ema out of an orphanage, transforming into a con that is rife with little laughs (one of the best moments involves fabricating a first date story between Petr and Marie, which is full of bittersweet daydreams of true love and logical explanations for their matrimonial ruse). If the film has a fault, however, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough in the scheme (Marie is a touch too willing to participate in the first place), and its family-friendly atmosphere and progression is recognizably formulaic. Nonetheless, the sweetness wins out, making the film a pleasant fairy tale not only for Ema, but also for Petr and Marie.

– Mike Massie

 



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