Manny & Lo
Screen Time: 95%
Age: 11 years old
Manny & Lo
Directed: Lisa Krueger
Two sisters, Amanda, 11, and Laurel, 16, run away from their different adopted parents, sleeping in model homes, or wherever they can. But when Laurel becomes pregnant, they find they can't make it through this crisis on their own. With nowhere else to turn, they decide to kidnap Elaine, a clerk in a baby supply store. But Elaine seems to need Manny and Lo just as much as they need her.
Movie ReviewsFilm about runaway girls capture truths about childhood
"MANNY & LO" grows on you, largely because of the charm of its youngest cast member, Scarlett Johansson, who plays 11-years-old Amanda. Her sister, Laurel (Aleksa Palladino), is 16. After escaping from their foster homes, they drive aimlessly, shoplifting for food and sleeping in model homes in suburban tracts (fully furnished for sale). Their resourcefulness is impressive; they handle most of life's daily difficulties with imagination and chutzpah.
Then Lo gets pregnant, a situation for which they are unprepared. At first Lo pretends she's been eating too many sweets; she can drop the weight any time she wants. But soon they must face reality. With her protruding belly, Lo goes to a women's clinic and demands an abortion. When she is informed she's come too late, Lo storms out wearing the paper gown.
Lo is a ringleader. She smokes cigarettes, she curses like a sailor and she bosses her sister around with military arrogance. Manny takes it all as part of being the younger. Besides, she is the conscience of the pair. She knows when Lo is dead wrong, and that all the bluster is just cover for debilitating uncertainty. Johansson is a wonderful, natural actress. She is never cloying; she conveys Manny's defiance in a muted and surprisingly dignified manner. She's also funny.
And she's working with a good script. First-time director Lisa Krueger, who also wrote the screenplay, remembers the matter-of-factness of childhood. She remembers the way children learn things one level at a time. Manny's misunderstanding of the ways of the world are underscored in the movie's second half when the increasingly desperate Lo conceives of an insane plot to help her through the pregnancy and birth. With Manny's help, she kidnaps Elaine (Mary Kay Place), the clerk in a maternity store.
The girls are attracted by Elaine's know-it-all manner, reinforced by her strange habit of wearing a nurses uniform on the job.
The movie takes a longed-for sharp turn for the better at this point. Now we can expect the girls to eventually bond with their captive and the captive to learn to love her kidnappers. Soon Elaine, knowing and uniformed, is cooking dinners and giving Lo health tips. By the time the pregnancy is nearing term, we can see the inevitable uniting of this unlikely threesome.
Place, an underused, special actress, plays the disappointed and lonely Elaine with an imperious air covering a core of neediness. She becomes so protective of her kidnappers that when the owner of the house they are now squatting in comes home unexpectedly, Elaine knocks him over the head, ties him up and stows him in the garage so he won't report this strange little menage to the authorities. As Lo points out, not too many kidnap victims go around kidnapping victims of their own. It's kind of like a cat keeping a pet hamster. That's exactly the kind of amusing idea that makes this movie so likable.