Manny & Lo

on July 26, 1996 by Joseph McBride
   Well-intentioned but monotonous, Lisa Krueger's "Manny & Lo" is a dreary tale of two runaway sisters (Scarlett Johansson and Aleksa Palladino) forced to deal with the realities of childbirth. Beginning as a road movie, it quickly turns static as the sisters hole up in an isolated country house with a hostage (Mary Kay Place). Krueger's characters aren't complex enough to sustain a feature film, and her direction is both visually and dramatically listless.
   Developed with the assistance of the Sundance Institute, "Manny & Lo" never transcends the feeling of an unrealized workshop piece. Palladino (in her film debut) plays pregnant teenager Lo on a single, grating note of hard-boiled belligerence that makes it hard for the audience to empathize with her plight. Johannson ("If Lucy Fell"), as kid sister Manny, has a naturalness that commands attention, but the overly passive characterization doesn't give her enough to do. Some welcome humor is injected by Place as the good-hearted oddball Elaine, a maternity shop worker kidnapped by the two desperately confused girls. The sustained cruelty with which Lo treats their captive seems somewhat gratuitous, however, and it's a long haul before she realizes this woman is her friend. The tiresomely predictable denouement generates little emotion.
   The cinematography by Tom Krueger (the director's brother) is slickly atmospheric, but John Lurie's irritatingly pretentious musical score sounds like discordant wind chimes.    Starring Scarlett Johansson, Aleksa Palladino, Mary Kay Place and Paul Guilfoyle. Directed and written by Lisa Krueger. Produced by Dean Silvers and Marlen Hecht. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 95 min.
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