(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Nikki Braendlin writes and directs a film that tells us being alone can be an act of fate, but getting a family can be an act of choice. Abandoned by her fiancé, Margaret lives mechanically to care for her fancy home. When her sister and niece come unannounced for a short visit Margaret's life is in for change. This is a bittersweet story of loneliness and family relationships. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

This is a bittersweet story of family relationships going wrong and going right. Margaret (played by Caroline Fogarty) was devastated when the man she was engaged to for three years suddenly broke off their relationship. It seems to have ripped out her emotions. Now she lives without apparent feeling with her only real companion being the fabulous house and garden she cares for meticulously as if it took the place of the husband and possible child she expected to have. Using this dull but disciplined lifestyle as a surrogate for family, she lives like the living dead and seems to be the least qualified person to do her job, planning fun parties for others. Her social life seems to be long phone conversations with two boring aunts.

Then Margaret's sister Josephine (Bonnie McNeil) who has a nearly opposite personality and her daughter Hannah (Laurel Porter) come for an unannounced visit. Margaret sadly watches her sister and niece. They have more a friendship than a mother-daughter relationship. But Hannah does not at all like her Aunt Margaret. More family--more people close to care about--is just what Margaret needs. Margaret decides to win over her niece, little expecting that Josephine is holding back a secret that will change her relationship.

All of the speaking roles are women's roles. The three main actresses, Fogarty, McNeil, and Porter take naturally to their parts. Porter is a little prickly as a twelve-year-old is likely to be. Her acting reminds one of Amara Miller from THE DESCENDENTS (2011) and she goes through a similar evolution. Caroline Fogarty's flaming red hair almost belies her timid and brittle personality. Her sister, played by Bonnie McNeil, is the kind of mother who makes life exciting as she seems always anxious to take a bite out of life.

AS HIGH AS THE SKY is Nikki Braendlin's first produced screenplay and her first time as director. She also has a credit as executive producer. The budget has been kept low by mostly filming in just one house. And it is a beautiful house. The idea that a party planner is sufficiently successful to be able to afford such a house leads one to wonder just what actually goes on at the sort of parties that Margaret plans. The house has a very pleasant color scheme of pastel blues and oranges that extend to Margaret's wardrobe. She almost fades into the background.

Braendlin's film gives us three women who find they have to weather and adapt to very different sets of changes to their lives. It takes a while but they become endearing. I rate AS HIGH AS THE SKY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. So far the film has mostly played at film festivals but was released on DVD on May 6, 2014, and will be released to VOD on June 6.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper