(Air Date: Week Of 08/07/96)
So Lo's this wild sixteen year old girl with an attitude, and a baby on the way. Manny's her eleven year old sister, totally level-headed and cerebral. They've escaped from their respective foster homes, and they're just tooling around in this car, staying in vacant model homes in suburban subdivisions.
That's the intro to "Manny & Lo", the quirky new independent film by first-time director Lisa Krueger. The third main character is Elaine, played by Mary Kay Place, a maternity store clerk with a questionable past-- is she, or is she not, a nurse? And as much as she obsesses about babies, why hasn't she she ever had one? Her personal history is brought into question, but never explained, and your mind plays with the possibilities.
Manny and Lo-- well, it's mostly Lo's idea-- they kidnap Elaine so she can get Lo through pregnancy and childbirth. They take over an isolated, unoccupied vacation cabin in the woods as their hideout. Elaine is pretty hostile at first -- after all, she's the head of the church coffee committee, and she'll be missed -- so they keep her feet tied together so she can only hobble around as she cooks frozen dinners with the brand name HOT DISH -- and formally dispenses advice. The character Elaine is uptight, but full of warm maternal instincts she's never been able to express, and Mary Kay Place pulls off a beautifully nuanced performance in a tricky role.
The idyllic scenes in the forest make you realize how uptight the mood was before, when the two young girls had no anchor, and all their defenses up. In the forest, they can relax, as Lo surrenders to the natural forces growing the baby inside her. Friendship and trust grow between Elaine and the girls in a fresh, unsentimental way, and these personal connections replace family ties at a time when traditional family ties seem doomed.
"Manny & Lo" isn't totally unflawed. It's definitely small -- Nothing wrong with that, but you could also say that there aren't enough bones in the structure, and that the rift that occurs between Elaine and the girls, which provokes the only small rise and fall in the drama, seems unmotivated. And there's an overall sameness to the mood. But this simplicity is part of the charm. If you could compare some films to art museums, others to major exhibitions, and still smaller films to one dusty wing of a museum, "Manny & Lo" would be just one painting that you get to gaze at at length, absorbing all the details long enough that you come away with just one strong impression.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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