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And Baby Makes Four

Pals on the Lam: Aleksa Palladino (right) and Scarlett Johansson strike out on their own in "Manny and Lo."

Three 'not terribly unified' women struggle with childbirth in 'Manny and Lo'

By Richard von Busack

SOMETIMES, WHEN the camera really lingers on the face of a middle-aged actress, when a flat performance seems to take months to unfold, and the movie stops dead to observe the process, it is easy to tell--even if you don't watch a lot of TV--that an ex-TV star is giving what she supposes is the performance of her life. In this case, it is Mary Kay Place, late of Fernwood 2Night, in the independent film Manny and Lo. She's the name star, playing a gentle mental case named Elaine. Elaine is still quirky, but she's better than before, when she was, as she says, "not terribly unified." That phrase, unfortunately, sums up Manny and Lo, an obvious labor of love.

Manny (Scarlett Johansson), short for Amanda, is pregnant and in serious denial; when her boyfriend gives her a maternity blouse as a present, she blows up and leaves him. She and her little sister, Lo (Aleksa Palladino), short for Laurel, hit the road. They take refuge in an empty country house, where, in the film's best scene, they accidentally view a home-childbirth video. Manny, now realizing her predicament, decides to kidnap Elaine, who works at a small-town baby boutique. Despite her obvious instability, Elaine has had some experience birthing babies, though Manny may well drive both her and Lo away.

An almost ridiculously positive ending mars this independent, low-budget film. It's always irksome to see movies that presume to tell you that a baby is going to change someone's character for the better, especially after we've had plenty of evidence of Manny's bad temper. What French movie was it that featured the following interchange?: "They say that a baby is made out of love," says the woman. "Yes," the man responds, "but it's what they don't say that's important." What makes the movie agreeable in spots is Palladino's unaffected, pleasing role as moderator between the two touched women. Her scenes (including one Lynda Barryish moment in which she hypnotizes a lizard with the Pledge of Allegiance) evince the peculiar but natural charm that director/writer Lisa Krueger aims for but too often misses.

Manny and Lo (R; 90 min.), directed and written by Lisa Krueger, photographed by Tom Krueger and starring Scarlett Johansson, Mary Kay Place and Aleksa Palladino.

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro.

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