In "A Simple Twist of Fate," a lonely furniture maker (Steve Martin) raises an apparently orphaned toddler, but when she is 10, he must wage a custody battle with her biological father, a rich, scheming politician who now wants her back. (Rated PG-13)
For most kids, the "twist" in this updated remake of "Silas Marner," isn't that Michael McCann's wife becomes pregnant with someone else's child, turning him into a divorced and miserly recluse. Nor is it that his hoard of gold coins is stolen, nor that the baby toddles out of the snow into his life, nor any of the other plot twists.
It's that comedian Steve Martin isn't funny.
"I was going in there hoping to see comedy because I got it in my mind to see comedy, and then there wasn't that much," said Vanessa Rojas, 15.
"It was more serious than I thought it was going to be," said her brother Andres, 12, who was also anticipating Martin, funnyman, but mostly found Martin, tragedian.
The siblings had been brought by their parents who were happy to have found a nonviolent family film, and one that, unlike many this summer, doesn't portray dads as detached deadbeats.
Andres had been more interested than Vanessa. "I saw a lot of previews. It had Steve Martin in it, and most of his movies are good, so I thought it would be OK," he said.
But both said the lack of laughs, while surprising, didn't spoil their enjoyment of the story.
"I liked it a lot," Vanessa said. "I just liked the whole plot. She had the choice between a really rich family or someone she loved and she chose the person she loved, which I guess is like reality. It's what most kids would do, I think."
Andres agreed that the girl, Mathilda, made the right decision.
"The other guy, she barely knew him. It was her father that raised her, or her non-father, really. So it was better for her to stay with the one who she loved and knew all about."
The story is updated from the 19th Century to a small town in Virginia in the 1980s. In the course of parenting, McCann changes from a dad who treats children like dogs ("Sit! Sit! Stay! Stay!") to a buggy-walking, bottle-feeding, toy-making dad who can't bear to spank her for misbehaving.
His nemesis, politician John Newland, changes from a self-serving ambitious schemer, to a mellowed, middle-aged schemer, desperate for a biological offspring.
While the dads are committed to the point of battle, the mothers or potential mothers in this version are either unfaithful wives, heroin addicts, or infertile and ambitious schemers. Andres and Vanessa thought other kids who have experienced custody disputes might relate to the plot. Like other custody cases, the judge must decide who is the better parent. In this plot, the message is whoever has the gold gets to make the rules.
Vanessa took issue with how the judge denigrated the home life of McCann, who made $15,000 a year.
"If he was really poor, then I might understand," she said. "But he wasn't even that poor. He provided well. He had a nice place and everything."
Andres found the plot twists to be anything but simple, particularly at the end. "I don't think that there would be such a coincidence."
Argued Vanessa: "But I liked it that way."
Countered Andres: "I liked it, but that's not going to really happen."
Ultimately, both said they would recommend the movie to their friends.
Vanessa said there were a few moments when Martin was funny. "Not like making jokes, but dancing and stuff like that. His faces. . . . He's a good actor anyway."
Andres agreed. "He's a multitalented actor. He could play any serious or comedy movie."