Twelve-year old book enthusiast Ella (Isbella Blake-Thomas) finds herself in the worst predicament she can imagine: her mom (Kelly Lynch) is in the hospital with Leukemia, and her dad (Sean Patrick Flanery) is sending her off to spend time with her Grandmother (Holland Taylor) whom she’s never met. Her G.M. (which doubles for “grandmother” and “general major”) is an uptight old woman with a rare book collection who isn’t too fond of the new housing arrangements either. She misses her deceased husband dearly and barely acknowledges her son, let alone the granddaughter thrust into her otherwise comfortable, tech-free life.
Their worlds collide when a rare book, titled Kepler’s Dream, is stolen from G.M.’s collection. G.M. believes her property’s caretaker (Steven Michael Quedara) is to blame, but knowing that can’t be the case, Ella and the caretaker’s daughter, Rosie (Esperanza Fermin), take it upon themselves to solve the case.
While I applaud the indie-made Kepler’s Dream for getting a theatrical release, I believe it’s the entirely wrong venue for this Hallmark-style family friendly drama. It would work beautifully as an MOW (Movie-of-the-Week) and would likely do well as a Redbox rental along similar indie-dramas such as A Horse For Summer. As a theatrical release, though, I think it fails on several accounts.
Admittedly, the film is beautifully shot on location at a desert ranch with wonderful cinematography and a lovely backdrop. A big kudos to the location scouts of this project and to cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Continuing with the things this film did right, Holland Taylor gave a wonderful performance that proves she can do so much more than the TV bit-parts she usually gets handed. It’s a shame Hollywood doesn’t make better use of their more maturely aged actresses, as they built this industry through their hard work over the decades.
Sadly, the cinematography and Ms. Taylor’s performance are where the glowy-ness of this review must end.
The most interesting part of Kepler’s Dream is the “who-dunnit” mystery involved, but the filmmakers have made the fatal flaw of telling the audience ahead of time who the culprit is. The film doesn’t even try to let the audience be a part of solving the crime… it just hands the answer over on a silver platter, therefore making me feel like a useless observer rather than a participant in solving a crime.
There were also numerous logic flaws along the way that I unfortunately can’t share here and still present a spoiler-free review… but let’s just say there’s several cinematic tropes that don’t really work in this movie as they are out of character for those involved.
I feel a little bad for the lead actress, young Isabella Blake-Thomas. It’s been three years since Kepler’s Dream was filmed, and she’s now a beautiful young teenager… but this film, with her as a gangly pre-teen, is only just now hitting the market. While I’m hopeful she’s blossomed as an actress since then, this film doesn’t portray her in the sort of light she’ll want at this stage in her career. Had it come out a few years ago, it would have positioned her for a lot of great preteen roles… but as a 15-yr old who’s looking for more mature parts, it doesn’t look good for her.
In addition to story faults and logic flaws, the script is filled with dialogue that felt forced, making even the once-great Kelly Lynch feel like an amateur in her first role, proving that you while it’s possible to give a bad performance of a good script, you can’t turn a poor script into an Oscar contender.
Which leads me to back to my earlier comment about how this film could be a strong contender in the MOW or Straight-to-DVD markets. Before the film started, we were informed that this movie is now a “for your consideration” piece as it’s been submitted to the Academy Awards for consideration in all categories. This feels like a mistake and an over-reach. A film should know where it stands in the market, so the attempt at Oscar nods for what is otherwise a TV movie projected on the big screen shows a lack of self-understanding from the filmmakers and their distributors. It’s understandable that you want the most for your baby after many years of blood, sweat, and tears… but you wouldn’t put an average player in your starting line-up just because they tried real hard.
The pacing is slow, the editing weak with awkwardly-long shots that don’t know when to cut away, the performances of everyone under the age of 60 were average, and the soundtrack felt sporadic with a final song that’s akin to a YouTuber’s attempt at radio-stardom.
As a student film, Kepler’s Dream would have been impressive. As an MOW or Redbox release, it might have been successful. But as a theatrical release with Oscar wishes, it simply fails to deliver; being nowhere near on par with the cinematic powerhouses it finds itself up against.