By Don Simpson | May 30, 2014
Director: Livia De Pails
Writers: Livia De Paolis, Sarah Nerboso
Starring: Livia De Paolis, Michael Cristofer, Miles Chandler, Diane Guerrero, Carol Kane
Elena (Livia De Paolis) is fascinated by modern means of communication but she cannot seem to wrap her head around how to develop that interest into a graduate school thesis. But then Elena finds herself fully immersed into the very modern worlds of her significantly older boyfriend Walter’s (Michael Cristofer) adopted teenage kids, Amanda (Diane Guerrero) and Luke (Miles Chandler). This allows Elena to gain firsthand insight on how these two particular teens utilize different types of technology as existential tools to better understand themselves.
Though many of Emoticon ;)‘s comments on modern communication are annoyingly obvious, Livia De Paolis’ directorial debut works well as a subtle contemplation of family that intimately observes how adoption and divorce may affect family units. Not only is there a natural generational divide between Walter and his kids, but they are not intrinsically bound by DNA. With sole custody of the teenagers, Walter has adopted a laissez-faire approach to parenting, focusing his time on teaching and dating. Having very little parental oversight, Amanda and Luke are forced to learn everything for themselves. Elena’s keen interest in their lives is resisted at first, but that tide turns quickly. Starving for parental support during their existential struggles, Amanda and Luke latch onto Elena. Not quite old enough to be their mother, Elena’s understanding of technology allows her to form an intimate connection with the Amanda and Luke, becoming their friend and confidant, something they have seemingly never experienced with a parental figure before.
Emoticon ;) also addresses the role that race may play in adoption. While Luke was able to easily adjust to his adoptive parents and their neighborhood (Gramercy, Manhattan) because he is Caucasian, Amanda basically had to ignore her Mexican roots and assimilate herself into their white, upperclass world. Once Amanda meets her first “brown” friend, her life is changed forever. Amanda is driven by the desire to learn about the biological past that has been hidden from her thus far.
De Paolis’ refreshingly feminine perspective is most apparent in her handling of unplanned pregnancies, specifically in the way the female characters are affected by these situations. Emoticon ;) serves as a perfect example of why we need more feminine directorial voices in the world of cinema.