Manny & Lo (Lisa Krueger)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Now seems as good a time as any to remind everyone that I, like all critics, both professional and amateur, bring into the theater with me various prejudices, affinities, and disinclinations, and that these inevitably color my assessments of certain films in ways that may seem inexplicable or arbitrary to some. Case in point: for whatever reason, mannered quirkiness in an otherwise naturalistic setting gets on my nerves, and Manny & Lo, a potentially intriguing film about a strange improvised family, is absolutely awash in its detriment, in my view. The narrative, in which two sisters on the run from foster parents -- the elder, Lo, an angry, pregnant teen; the younger, Manny, a placid, inquisitive girl of ten or eleven -- kidnap a woman they mistakenly believe to be a nurse to assist with Lo's delivery, is already plenty offbeat, and the sober, straight-faced tone that writer/director Krueger employs is ideal. Unfortunately, she seems concerned that we won't find her simple story interesting or appealing enough, and attempts to compensate by adding lots of goofy incident. Example: we learn in Manny's introductory narration that Lo wants to be a flight attendant. That's a nice, reasonably subtle way of quickly telling us something significant about Lo, even if it's something we've more or less gathered from her onscreen behavior; Krueger goes on, however, to shoot Lo "practicing" for her profession by standing on Manny's butt in her stocking feet (Manny thus providing "turbulence") while holding a tray and reciting safety instructions. Yeah, right. There's tons of stuff like that in the film, and the three strong, eloquent performances at the film's core (Aleksa Palladino as Lo, Mary Kay Place as kidnapee Elaine, and especially Scarlett Johansson as Manny) are overwhelmed by the incessant wackiness. Though it calms down somewhat as it goes along, and I began warming to it towards the end, Manny & Lo belongs to an unnamed genre that I just don't care for; your mileage, of course, may vary.