Picks and Pans Review: Manny & Lo

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mary Kay Place

Place, who 20 years ago played irrepressible country chanteuse Loretta Haggers on TV's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and was in 1983's The Big Chill, is a wonderful actress who doesn't work often enough. When she first shows up in this pleasingly quirky little drama, it's like seeing an old friend after too many years spent only exchanging Christmas cards. She is middle-aged now and looks like Geraldine Page on a really good day. But Place still has a down-home warmth and the twinkling eyes of a born dreamer.

Manny & Lo, the debut feature by writer-director Lisa Krueger, is about two sisters, Manny (Scarlett Johansson), 11, and Lo (Aleksa Palladino), 16. After their single mom's death, they take off in her station wagon, surviving by bunking in model homes and boosting junk food from mini-marts. When the older sister becomes pregnant, the two kidnap Place, a know-it-all clerk at a store stocked with baby supplies. As Lo puts it, "We take stuff from stores all the time." Place, it turns out, is as much in need of a family as the sisters and turns out to be more of a mom than a hostage.

Manny & Lo rambles at the end, but mostly it's a small pleasure. And gives you a great sense of Place. (R)

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