Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2024 6:21 pm 
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A science nerd girl learns to relate to humans

It's not certain what Mabel is about: botany, child rearing, adolescence? But Callie (Lexi Perkel), the protagonist, is only in fourth grade. Is she an adolescent already? She Is extra bright. Her main relationship is with plants. Mabel is the name of her sensitive plant, which she takes with her in the car when her little family (she is an only child) movies to a new town, a new house, for her father's work. It's not good for Callie, most obviously because the old house was on the edge of woods and there were plants. The new one is part of a newish suburban house complex, close together, lots of lawns. There is as smaller girl living next door (Lena Josephine Marano). Her name is Agnes. The trajectory, Callie's growth as a human being, is for her to learn to share Mabel with Agnes. Maybe this is a movie for sensitive, nerdy girls whose intellectual skills exceed their social ones. This happens to boys and with other abilities or preoccupations. But Mabel is serious about its botanical bias. This film debuted in a Sloan Science on Screen section of the San Francisco Film Festival. It may inspire school science teachers and fledgling science students.

On the other hand Mabel is heavily focused on two human adult-child relationships, featuring Callie and her loving mother (Christine Ko), on the one hand, and Callie and a "permanent substitute" teacher of the sixth grade science class that Callie sneaks into in her new school (till she gets discovered and kicked out), who gives her name as Mrs. G. (Judy Greer). Mrs. G. is a tough, passionate teacher and becomes Callie's unwilling mentor. It's tough love on the part of both Angela (Callie's mother) and Mrs. G. Callie becomes involved in an experiment on how the relationship between light deprivation and blooming of carnations shows that plants can "tell time." Callie gets so carried away with her home project she spends four hundred dollars of her parents' money without authorization on carnation plants. She also sneaks herself and Agnes without permission into a greenhouse where Mrs. G. works.

Mrs. G. is a mysterious, unreliable mentor. Ultimately her failure makes Callie realize she needs child friends and she should seek to bond with Agnes, in spite of the fact that she has been consistently mean to the younger girl. Angela, Callie's mother, tries tough love but is flexible. When she discovers all the rule breaking for plants she makes them off limits for Callie, but when she finds out how serious her daughter's "plant time" experiment is, she drops the restriction and helps out with it.

Since the climax involves nothing more dramatic than two little girls digging in the garden, and Callie isn't a very articulate character, Mabel may have limited appeal. It is, however, a good-looking and -sounding film. The images are bright colored and shot with lenses that blend sharpness and blurriness so appetizingly they make plants indeed seem at times more attractive than people. The score also is pleasant - as perhaps it should be since Nicholas Ma is the son of Yo Yo. His best known previous film is the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? about the irresistibly kind and sweet and tough kid's program host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Subtle, kindly (or tough) relationships with kids are also a subject here.

Mabel, 84 mins., premiered Sat. Apr. 27, 2024 in San Francisco as part of the SFIFF. World Premiere Screening Saturday, April 27th at 5pm PT at the Vogue Theatre with a Q&A featuring cast and filmmaker.

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