I asked to see this film because when I saw the cast, I was excited. I love Kelly Hu and Holland Taylor. Sean Patrick Flanery is sweet and I really adore his work in “Boondock Saints.” Not only did the actors intrigue me, but the idea of a mystery surrounding a book enthralled the book lover in me. It was well worth my time. This film was sweet, real, and full of great characters.
Kepler’s Dream shares the story of a young girl, Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas) whose mother Amy (Kelly Lynch) is undergoing chemotherapy and must go into the hospital. Her parents are divorced and rather than taking care of her himself, her father Walt (Sean Patrick Flanery) sends Ella to stay with his mother, Violet von Stern (Holland Taylor) for a few weeks over the summer.
We find out that Amy loves the moon and astronomy, passing on that love along with a love of books to her daughter. When Ella travels to her Grandmother, she is told by Amy to ask Violet about her library and a book held within, Kepler’s Dream. Ella follows through with her promise and finds out that Violet owns a rare, valuable edition (only 2 copies in the world) of Kepler’s Dream, a book by famed astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler who discovered elliptical orbits.
Family secrets emerge as Ella tries to discover why her family is so fractured. She meets her father’s friend Miguel (Steven Michael Quezada) and his daughter Rosie (Esperanza Fermin). Miguel lives on her grandmother’s property helping her but when Kepler’s Dream goes missing, Miguel is accused. Ella, along with Rosie, must find the book in order to clear his name and find out the truth of who is responsible. Along the way, family connections are re-forged and Ella gains emotional bonds with her father and Grandmother.
One of the elements that I loved the most was how well built each character was in the film. While it is slower paced, that allows time to develop the relationship between Ella and her mother. It also gives us insight into who Ella is and allows exploration of Amy’s love of space, of the moon landing and tiny details that dovetail with other parts of the film. Rather than telling us who they are, we are shown through Ella’s interactions with them. We see her difficult relationship with her father, his distance and his use of work to avoid his inability to really know how to be a father. It incorporates her introduction to her Grandmother, who she’s never met and who is terrible with children or people in general. We also see how warm and caring a true father daughter dynamic can be when we are introduced to Miguel and Rosie. All of those carefully built bonds are integral to the story shared.
Another element I loved was the incorporation of space and Kepler. There are no missed opportunities to weave those facets into the film. Amy and Ella watch the 1969 Moon landing where Amy explains the importance of each team member, including Michael Collins and likens her stay in the hospital to his trip to the dark side of the moon while Ella is compared to Armstrong, getting to have the adventure. Later, we find her grandfather was also an astronomer and mathematician who assisted NASA and met Michael Collins. There are so many more connections and those little thoughtful touches made the movie for me. Even the music blended together to add to the layers of world building. Filming on site in New Mexico was also a brilliant decision.
The dynamic between Holland Taylor and Isabella Blake-Thomas is truly something special. When we first meet Violet von Stern, she is indomitable, authoritarian, and a complete grammarian. While she applauds Ella’s love of books, she is controlling of her home and her library, not allowing space for Ella to be part of her life, much like Ella’s father. Yet, Ella never gives up, listening but also having her own mind and her own way of standing up to her Grandmother’s harshest moments. As the two interact, warmth develops between them as natural as breathing and could only have been so created by truly incredible acting.
I found most of the acting in the film to be impressive. Holland Taylor played acerbic and tart while still showing warmth and pain as the scene required. Isabella Blake-Thomas was accomplished, her interactions realistic and well directed. Steven Michael Quezada was warm and caring as Miguel while Sean Patrick Flanery made his character of Walter, Ella’s father both endearing and awkward as he tiptoed around his daughter. Kelly Lynch was beautiful as Amy. While the children were not always perfect, they were realistic as children trying to solve a mystery. The only real disappointment among the acting was Kelly Hu. While she was incredible as always, there was so little to her part as Amy’s friend and neighbor that I felt it was a waste and wished we had gotten to see more of her.
The story reminded me of a Nancy Drew novel and while I love those books, having grown up reading every single one of them, that actually led to one of the only issues I had with the movie. It was predictable. The mystery was interesting but easily solved and unfortunately very much telegraphed by the actions of the characters. What does save it for me is the incredible characterization, the interconnectedness and an ending that manages to not be as predictable as the mystery.
This film is perfect for the family, especially if you love Nancy Drew style mysteries or if you’re a fan of space, math, or books. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to hear more of Ella’s adventures. The relationships felt real and the ending was everything I hoped for and more. Every little detail was important to the story and the authenticity of filming in New Mexico made the family come alive. I came for the actors and stayed for love of the characters.
Rating: 4 stars. ~~ Andrea Rittschof