In Amy Glazer’s coming-of-age mystery Kepler’s Dream, a precocious girl tries to make sense of her splintering family. Eleven-year-old Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas) has a lot on her shoulders: Mom’s in chemotherapy, Dad’s mostly out of the picture, and Ella herself has been carted off to her paternal grandmother’s house for the summer. Even worse, she’s never met matriarch Violet von Stern (Holland Taylor), who has a reputation for being a haughty hard-ass.
Based on the 2012 YA novel by Juliet Bell, Kepler’s Dream is a study in family dynamics that’s sweet without being too saccharine. A city kid who doesn’t know a palomino from a pinto, Ella shows up to her grandmother’s New Mexico home in a cartoonish cowboy hat, inspiring snark from the locals. She slowly assimilates to her new surroundings, which she nicknames “broken family camp” — a ranch full of high-priced first editions where peacocks and barn swallows roam freely under a sky smattered with constellations.
Blake-Thomas gives Ella equal parts spunk and curiosity, the perfect foil for Taylor’s character, a rare book collector who has no time for the kid’s “likes,” “ums,” and “yeahs.” In a deliciously savage scene, Violet scolds Ella: “Don’t be a Philistine!” But when one of those books goes missing, Ella channels Nancy Drew in an attempt to save a family friend from taking the blame. With charming source material, Glazer brings a feel-good puzzler for young audiences from page to screen.
Directed by Amy Glazer
Opens December 1, AMC Empire 25