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dir Amy Glazer
prd Sedge Thomson
scr Sylvia Brownrigg, Sedge Thomson, Ann Cummins, Amy Glazer, Vijay Rajan
with Isabella Blake-Thomas, Holland Taylor, Sean Patrick Flanery, David Hunt, Kelly Lynch, Steven Michael Quezada, Esperanza Fermin, Kelly Hu, Stafford Douglas, Hank Rogerson, Tailinh Agoyo, Leedy Corbin
release US 1.Dec.17
Stargazing: Blake-Thomas, Quezada and Fermin
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
With a cheesy Lifetime Movie aesthetic, this film strains to be heartwarming from the first plinky notes of Patrick Neil Doyle's score. Based on Juliet Bell's novel, the story has its eye on the stars, while the film nicely captures the expansive landscape of the American West. So while director Amy Glazer keeps everything so child-friendly that it never feels very authentic, undemanding audiences will find it entertaining.
While her mother (Lynch) undergoes treatment for leukaemia, 11-year-old Ella (Blake-Thomas) had hoped to go stay with her dad (Flannery) for the summer, but is instead going to New Mexico to live with her grandmother Violet (Taylor). There she meets Violet's ranch hand Miguel (Quezada) and his daughter Rosie (Fermin), plus family friend Christopher (Hunt) and his nephew Jackson (Douglas). With no internet, Ella explores Grandmother's houseful of stuff collected on her travels, including a library. Then a rare 17th century book by Kepler goes missing, and Ella is determined to find it.
Aimed squarely at pre-teens, the film is shot in a bland, overlit style that leaves scenes feeling rather clumsy and amateurish. But the actors find some textures in their characters, adding interest as the plot generates a hint of mystery. The script continually repeats the fact that Ella's family has been full of stargazers, but everything feels almost painfully obvious, including the central question of who stole the book. And as she investigates, Ella also finds a rather simplistic explanation of why her family is so broken.
Blake-Thomas is likeable in the central role, giving Ella a sense of focus that makes her odyssey engaging. Taylor invests some grit into her more complex character, a woman whose brusque manner conceals inner turmoil. With dark intensity and brittle humour, she adds layers of intrigue to the entire film. In a smaller role, Flannery has some strong scenes that hint at his character's own journey. His scenes with Taylor are particularly strong. And Quezada and Fermin add a more personal touch as new friends Ella can confide in.
As the story progresses, the dramatic elements become quietly gripping, even with the absence of suspense or genuine surprises. But amid the youthful adventure, there's an intensity to some of the interaction that resonates, drawing out themes relating to family connections. So even if it feels simplistic and overly sentimental, it's a nice little tale that will charm younger viewers. And won't bore older ones too much.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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