'Kepler's Dream': Film Review

Kepler's Dream Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Leomark Studios

A young girl is forced to live with her estranged grandmother in this adaptation of Juliet Bell's YA novel.

Thankfully devoid of the fantasy elements endemic to so many cinematic versions of YA novels, Kepler's Dream proves a modest but diverting family film charmer. Director Amy Glazer's straightforward approach to this adaptation of Juliet Bell's book benefits greatly from the presence of several veteran performers, especially the always reliable Holland Taylor. Currently receiving a limited theatrical engagement, the film should find a receptive young audience in home video formats.

Isabella Blake-Thomas plays the central role of Ella, an 11-year-old girl forced to deal with a mother (Kelly Lynch) suffering from leukemia and an absentee father (Sean Patrick Flanery) more concerned with his fishing company business than caring for his daughter. When mom is sent to the hospital, Ella is relegated to the temporary care of her paternal grandmother, who she's never even met.

The granny, Violet von Stern (Taylor), more than lives up to her name. Living on a remote New England ranch, she's a snobbish sophisticate whose home is filled to the brim with antiques and a rare book collection which is her pride and joy. Constantly chiding her newly arrived granddaughter for her careless use of the English language, Violet doesn't exactly exude a welcoming presence. Fortunately, Ella is greeted in more friendly fashion by Violet's longtime ranch hand Miguel (Steven Michael Quezada) and his adolescent daughter Rosie (Esperanza Fermin). Also on hand are Violet's friend Abercrombie (David Hunt), a rare book dealer, and his assistant (Stafford Douglas).  

Adjusting to her new environment that features no Wi-Fi but plenty of horses and peacocks running wild throughout the premises — "It sounds like someone crying," Ella comments about the mournful sound they make — the young girl soon finds herself caught up in a mystery involving the disappearance of one of her grandmother's most valuable and prized books, a first-edition novel by the 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler. When Violet and Abercrombie suspect Miguel of purloining the rare tome, Ella and Rosie join forces to find the real culprit.

The Nancy Drew-style detective subplot is actually the least interesting aspect of the story. Far more rewarding is the depiction of the slowly developing friendship and mutual respect between Violet and her granddaughter and the revelation of a tragic event from the past that sheds light on the motivations of several characters.

Blake-Thomas is appealing and sympathetic as the emotionally beleaguered young heroine, while Taylor thankfully infuses subtle shadings into a character who in lesser hands could easily have come across as a stereotype. The supporting performances are mostly first-rate, with Flanery and Lynch making the most of their brief screen time and Quezada projecting quiet dignity as the loyal Miguel.

Production company: Boltrope
Distributor: Leomark Studios
Cast: Isabella Blake-Thomas, Holland Taylor, Kelly Lynch, Sean Patrick Flanery, David Hunt, Kelly HU, Steven Michael Quezada, Esperanza Fermin, Stafford Douglas
Director: Amy Glazer
Screenwriters: Sylvia Brownrigg, Sedge Thomson, Ann Cummin, Amy Glazer, Vijay Rajan
Producer: Sedge Thomson
Director of photography: Jancy Schriber
Production designer: Douglas Freeman
Editor: Mags Arnold
Costume designer: Miye 'Mimi' Matsumoto
Composer: Patrick Neil Doyle
Casting: Kerry Barden

90 minutes