Girl stuff

Manny and Lo plays hopscotch over female adolescence

Manny and Lo is almost worth the bumpy ride to watch Mary Kay Place whip up a gourmet, comic-poignant concoction named Elaine. Best known for her Emmy-winning role as the country crooner Loretta Haggers in the TV show Mary Hartman, Marty Hartman, and as the baby-desperate wife in The Big Chill, Place is also an accomplished writer and director. In Manny and Lo, she creates one of the most full-blooded eccentrics to command a movie screen in 1996. Elaine is a childless single woman with a troubled past that goes unspecified; the sad-eyed dignity and well-intentioned bossiness with which Place renders Elaine makes details of the character's young adulthood superfluous. (We are encouraged to suspect she has spent some time institutionalized.) She makes the woman heart-breaking and inspiring all at once.

Remember, too, that filmmaker Lisa Krueger played a decisive hand in creating this wondrous character. Manny and Lo isn't a failure so much as a misguided first effort by a woman who has brought a startling sense of characterization to the tale. All three roles are sympathetic and sharply detailed; it's some of the decisions they make to advance Krueger's themes that stretch credibility. Though ultimately overwhelmed by its misplaced playfulness, Manny and Lo corrals for our viewing pleasure some very memorable lost souls.

Manny and Lo. Sony Pictures Classics. Scarlett Johansson, Aleksa Palladino, Mary Kay Place. Written and directed by Lisa Krueger. Opens August 30.

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