'The Storyteller': Film Review

A low-key charmer.

A little girl with a mysterious past affects the lives of several people in Joe Crump's family movie drama.

A mysterious and possibly magical little girl brings healing to an emotionally fractured family in Joe Crump's film that can be seen on the Hallmark Movies website (appropriately) as well as in limited theatrical release. While The Storyteller hardly breaks any new ground in its Peter Pan-inspired tale, it boasts an undeniable sweetness that proves appealing amidst so many frenetic kids movies.

The story begins with the bedraggled Abby (Brooklyn Rae Silzer, making an impressive feature debut) showing up at the nursing home of the elderly Rosemary (screen veteran Constance Towers). Rosemary greets the child as if she were a relative; indeed, she thinks Abby is her "big sister" who has returned after a lengthy period away. During their spirited discussion, Abby informs Rosemary that her favorite book is J.M. Barrie's novel Peter and Wendy, showing the older woman a worn, tattered copy. It also turns out that Abby has a fairy companion who bears a remarkable resemblance to Tinkerbell. (The film's special effect won't cause Steven Spielberg any sleepless nights).

Rosemary urges her visiting granddaughter Maggie (Samantha Colburn) to take Abby home with her for one night until Abby's situation can be sorted out. Maggie, whose husband recently passed away, has an adopted teenage daughter, Jen (Cassidy Mack), who doesn't appreciate the presence of the young interloper. But the little girl soon has a remarkably positive influence on Maggie and Jen's lives, sparked in part by Abby's close relationship with a music teacher, John (James Snyder). Jen comes out of her hostile shell and begins taking singing lessons, and Maggie comes out of her social shell and develops a romantic relationship with the handsome teacher.

Music plays a significant part in the story, with the characters frequently expressing their newfound happiness with song. (Snyder, displaying the chops seen in such Broadway musicals as Cry-Baby and If/Then, handles this particular plot requirement with ease.) At a certain point, Abby begins to fear that she'll be taken away from social services and makes plans to run away. But — and this is not exactly a spoiler alert — The Storyteller is not the kind of film that ends unhappily.

Crump, making his feature directorial debut, doesn't bring much visual flair to the story's more fanciful elements, and the screenplay, co-written by him and Rachel Noll, too often telegraphs its themes. But those flaws don't prevent The Storyteller from being a low-key charmer. Much of the credit goes to the performers: Silzer, who despite her young age is a television veteran (with no less than 136 episodes of the soap opera General Hospital among her credits), doesn't fall into the trap of being cloying like so many child performers. Mack sensitively conveys both her character's guardedness and then joy at finally feeling free to love again, while Snyder has charisma to spare. And Towers, whose acting career dates back more than 60 years (she's worked with the likes of John Ford and Samuel Fuller), remains a luminous screen presence at age 85.

Production company: Dancing Spirit Productions
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Brooklyn Rae Silzer, Constance Towers, Samantha Colburn, Cassidy Mack, James Snyder, Kristina Wagner, Eden Espinosa
Director: Joe Crump
Screenwriters: Joe Crump, Rachel Noll
Producers: Joe Crump, Nancy Crump, Rachel Noll, Kristina Wagner
Executive producer: Gina G. Goff
Director of photography: Dan Clarke
Production designers: Nancy Crump, Jeremiah Follis
Editors: Joe Crump, Katherine Crump
Composer: Michael Reola
Costume designer: Cara Indiana

Rated G, 90 minutes