Isabela Moner

REVIEW: Let It Snow (2019)

When a snowstorm hits a small town on Christmas Eve, a group of high school seniors finds their friendships and love lives unexpectedly colliding.

Let It Snow is Netflix’s latest foray into YA book adaptations. The book with the same name was written by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle and was three interconnected stories about teenagers finding romance in the snow. I can’t comment on how it was as an adaptation as I haven’t read the source material, but as a film it was really good.

The young cast are so great in their roles that it’s very easy to be charmed by them and quickly get invested in their relationships. There’s Julie (Isabela Moner) who accidentally runs into pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore), there’s Tobin (Mitchell Hope) who finally plucks up the courage to tell his best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka) how he feels about her when JP (Matthew Noszka) comes into their lives, and Dorrie (Liv Hewson) is not only head over heels for a cheerleader but she’s also getting frustrated with her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush) who doesn’t see how great she is. There are even more characters than that and different relationships and friendships but those are the main ones that run through the film.

The relationship between Julie and Stuart could’ve felt very instalove but thanks to Moner and Moore’s great chemistry it doesn’t, and you find yourself rooting for these two very different people meet and form an unlikely connection.

While Let It Snow does follow a lot of the usual romance or teen movie tropes, it does have a different take on a couple. JP, for instance, is supposed to be the guy you hate as he’s getting in the way of a potential romance between Tobin and Angie, but because he’s such a nice guy (but not a Nice Guy™) you don’t, and neither does Tobin. It’s also lovely to see the friendship between two teenage girls getting such prominence and the two of them trying to help one another even when the truth hurts.

The film does a good job at juggling all the storylines and interweaving them and the characters in a way that feels natural. One storyline never feels like it’s getting more attention than another and having the film take place over one day is great as it’s like peaking through a window into these characters lives.

Let It Snow is just so sweet and fluffy! It’s the right balance of funny and sad, and with its snowy setting, which does look like a picture-postcard, Let It Snow feels like a warm Christmassy hug – which is exactly what you want from a Christmas movie. 4/5.

REVIEW: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora (Isabela Moner) is a teenage explorer who’s more at home in the jungle more than high school. But when her parents (played by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) go missing while searching for a lost city, Dora and her new friends go on an adventure to rescue them.

As a more grown up adaptation of the Dora the Explorer TV show, Dora and the Lost City of Gold finds itself as a good kids’ adventure film. There are plenty of references to the TV show like an inventive animated sequence and Dora’s love of singing when doing a mundane task. Then there’s when 6-year-old Dora turns to the camera and asks, “Can you say delicioso?” to the confusion of her parents as they look to see who she’s talking to and saying she’ll grow out of it. These kinds of moments are tongue-in-cheek but can feel a little awkward. Though, having characters question some of the weirdness, like a fox wearing a mask, makes most of the references work.

Isabela Moner is great as Dora as she gives a performance that’s both charming and moving. She’s full of energy and enthusiasm but she also gives Dora a little awkwardness as she finds it difficult to be anything but herself in high school when being unabashedly yourself is seen as a source of embarrassment for most people.

Dora is like a teenage Latina Indiana Jones and it works. There’s so many of the usual adventure puzzles and clichés like quicksand and booby traps but having a teenage girl at the forefront, working things out and having the adventure is wonderful. Her teenage friends all each have their moment of figuring things out and contributing to the adventure as well. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) is super smart while Randy (Nicholas Coombe) is into his games and knows all about jungle puzzles. That’s not to say they don’t have their fears and anxieties over being lost in the jungle, but it’s great seeing how they all become friends and learn to work together.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a fun adventure film that’s not afraid of its origins and affectionately skews the conventions of the TV show. It’s funny and charming and an easy, inoffensive watch for children and adults alike, even if you have only the most basic knowledge of the TV show it’s adapted from. 3/5.

REVIEW: Instant Family (2018)

Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) find themselves in over their heads after they decide to foster tough teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, anxious and accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and volatile Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Instant Family was an unexpected delight. It’s marketed as a straight up comedy, and while it still is very funny, it’s actually got a lot of heart to it as it portrays all the highs and lows of foster care. Pete and Ellie are reasonably well off, they have a thriving home renovation business and are content in their lives until a family member makes a comment about them never having kids. It gets them thinking and they sign up for a foster parent course where there’s the usual stereotypes like the gay couple and the deeply Christian couple, but there they all find a sense of support and belonging to get them through the complexities of fostering children who, in many cases, believe they aren’t worth anything.

Both Wahlberg’s and Byrne show off their comedic chops but they both handle the dramatic moments just as well. The young cast is great but it’s Isabela Moner that really shines as Lizzy. Lizzy’s someone who has practically raised her siblings herself so finds it difficult to both relinquish control to Pete and Ellie, and to trust them both. All three kids have had a tough life but being the oldest Lizzy has more of an understanding of what’s going on. Moner does a great job gradually showing Lizzy’s vulnerabilities as she learns to trust and open up to Pete and Ellie, but still never loses her independence or strength.

There are the usual family hijinks of temper tantrums over food, inappropriate boyfriends, and screaming arguments over toys, but when there’s the more serious and emotional moments (of which there are more than one might think based on the marketing) the film handles them well and doesn’t use any cheap joke to lessen the moment. The emotional scenes pack a punch and you’ll have to be tough not to tear up at least once.

Instant Family is a film about love, family and trust. It’s funny but it’s also a tear-jerker both when there’s something sad and when there’s something happy as this unusual family makes a breakthrough. It’s a feel-good dramedy that also never shies away from the difficulties these children and the people who foster them can face. Instant Family really was a surprise in the best possible way. 5/5.