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Manny and Lo  

Manny and Lo depicts a rather strange version of family values, as presented by two unusual kids and an even more unusual "mother" of sorts.

The two "unusual" kids are in fact runaways. The oldest one, Lo, sixteen and pregnant, has taken her eleven-year-old sister Manny away from her foster home, and now they are desperately roaming the country, staying one step ahead of the authorities whom the oldest girl believes is after them. These girls have never had a regular life, and at the moment it is impractical to start having one now, as they find themselves stealing food, and breaking into empty homes in order to sleep in a comfortable bed, in order to survive. And there is something else they are looking for, a person who will help the oldest sister with her baby. And they believe they've found that person in a seemingly knowledgeable woman (played by Mary Kay Place) at a maternity store - so they decide that night to kidnap her for the purposes of helping them out during this difficult time.

What occurs next is very loopy. For a while, Lo attempts to mimic the standard cliches of kidnapping capers, where the kidnapper is harsh and unyielding, which is rather baffling for us to watch given the age of the participants and the reason why they kidnapped this woman. Elaine herself protests against her captors by not eating, and by devoting her time to finding the right combination to the lock which keeps her legs together. Yet once Elaine finds out what is truly going on, she becomes the thoughtful and resourceful mother, giving out her own special wisdom on how to care for oneself before the big day. And so, of course, she and the two girls become much closer, until a sudden revelation threatens to dismantle this odd grouping.

Strange is the most efficient word suitable to describe the plot. I doubt that many runaway teens would think of such an act as what these kids do, unless, of course, one of the daytime talk shows has this story lined up for one of their frequent "shocking teens" episodes. ("I Don't Have a Real Mom, So I Kidnapped One."?) And we are also offered the strange creation of Elaine, played by Mary Kay Place. She is one kooky person. She is like Martha Stewart with a baby complex, making grandiose and self-important statements in order to make herself look the expert in childbirth. She also insists that she is a very important person in town, and that everybody will be concerned if she, the so-called baby expert, is missing for a long time. And, as the video box would have it, there apparently is a secret within Elaine which may be damaging, yet I, for one, saw this "big secret" coming about five or ten seconds after Elaine first enters the entire film.

Then again, Manny and Lo is not a suspense picture, but a film dealing with certain feelings of loneliness and alienation. Lo and Manny are the most obvious victims of such feelings. Lo is constantly paranoid of everything around her, from the cops whom she believes are tailing her to Elaine's neighbours and associates whom she believes are in on Lo`s kidnapping schemes, yet evidence seems to suggest that nobody is really very concerned, or knowledgeable, of any wrongdoing. I gather that she does need somebody to care for her, yet since she is unable to allow any real affection into her life (she is a runaway, after all), she twists those needs into that of a paranoia of all these people trying to catch her. Manny is unable to grow up in a proper social environment, either in her foster home or running off with her sister. She compensates for this by retreating somewhat into her imagination. And I also get the feeling that Elaine is lonely too, and that she needs someone who will really listen to her, and look up to her, and to be able to pass on values and wisdom to. It is the intersecting of these three personalities which may create a real, stable, if strange "family."

Manny and Lo is certainly a very interestingly strange movie, and has a somewhat hopeful message in that it claims that everyone, even those who seem beyond hope, will soon find someone who can care for them, even if from the most unlikely places. It also suggests that real familys are not necessarily biological, but, if circumstances demand, are merely people who can care for each other. And, certainly, Manny, Lo, and Elaine deserve to find each other, and to start a new, and happier, life together.

David Macdonald

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