Kepler's Dream

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Kepler's Dream Movie Poster Image
Sweet family drama has heart and positive messages.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 90 minutes

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Positive Messages

Positive messages abound: the way that people can show love without saying it or even being together; the emotional power of books and nature; the bonds that tie families together despite adversity. Curiosity, humility, and teamwork are themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ella is tenacious, strong, and self-confident, yet imperfect. She makes mistakes, but she grows from them, and she shows kindness and humility to others (including animals!). Grandmother Violet is stern and critical of her granddaughter and others, but it's said that "her bark is worse than her bite," and she does treat others with respect, as well as show her love in practical ways. 


No actual physical violence, but several scenes show Ella's mom, Amy, gravely ill with leukemia. Medical machines beep, a syringe fills with blood, Amy has patchy hair and gray skin. People talk openly about her dying and who would care for Ella if she did. Also frequent references to a drowning accident that killed two men (and that one character is blamed for). 


One "damn," one "hell," and a few other iffy words: Ella texts that the "food sucks" at her grandmother's house, and Ella is called a "twerp" and a "philistine." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Violet pours a big belt of liquor into a glass of iced tea in one scene; she doesn't act drunk. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kepler's Dream is a book-based drama about a young girl who's sent to stay with her stern grandmother while her mother is going through intensive cancer treatment. The visuals of Ella's mom, Amy, in her hospital bed are the movie's most upsetting content: She's shown with gray skin and patchy hair, and attached to beeping machines; several characters ask whether she'll die and speculate about who'd take care of Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas) if she does. But, happily, there are many more scenes in which Ella learns more about life, the arts, nature, and her family; she's a kind, thoughtful, smart girl whom parents will consider a positive role model, especially since she demonstrates character strengths like curiosity, humility, and teamwork. She's treated with respect and dignity throughout the film, even though the adults around her aren't always warm and affectionate. Expect a bit of mild language (one "damn," one "hell," etc.), and in one scene, Grandmother Violet pours a slug of vodka into her iced tea, but she doesn't act drunk. 

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What's the story?

Based on Juliet Bell's same-named book, KEPLER's DREAM centers on Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas), a young girl whose mom, Amy (Kelly Lynch), is gravely ill with leukemia. While Amy is in the hospital recovering from an aggressive stem-cell treatment, Ella is sent to live on a remote New Mexico ranch with her stern grandmother, Violet von Stern (Holland Taylor), until Ella's unreliable father, Walt (Sean Patrick Flanery), can come get her. Ella's never met her grandmother before, and at first she's not sure she likes her. But when the two discover they share an interest in books, the frost between them begins to thaw. Then a rare and valuable book is stolen, and Violet's household is thrown into an uproar. Can Ella find the book, the culprit, and the reasons behind her fractured family's obvious pain? 

Is it any good?

This sweetly sincere drama about a realistically courageous young girl in the grip of relatable circumstances is a great pick for family movie night. Unless, of course, kids are too young to enjoy a storyline about a girl whose mother could be dying! But if your children are old enough not to get trembly lips at the idea that parents can die, they'll be quickly taken in by Ella. The talented Blake-Thomas' performance is refreshingly natural; she doesn't mug or over-emote. Ella certainly sheds a few tears over her mother's health during the movie, but she's generally more interested in finding ways to keep herself busy while she's stuck with her grandmother: feeding a flock of peacocks, learning how to ride horses, finding a place where she can get bars on her phone, and making inroads into her grandmother's well-stocked library. 

Grandmother Violet herself is a bit of a terror: a grammar-corrector who wakes Ella up every morning at the crack of dawn, collects rare books, and regards most other humans with something between disdain and long-suffering patience. But, as played by the inimitable Holland Taylor, she also emerges as a distinct individual with a depth of feeling for her family that she buries under crispness and an excessive attachment to objects like her rare copy of Kepler's Dream (a real illustrated book written by 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler). Naturally, it's that very book that goes missing while Ella is visiting, and it probably would be clear who did it even if the story's main villain didn't have arched eyebrows and an English accent. It's obvious, too, what will happen next, and how the whole story will turn out. But that doesn't stop this drama from being affecting, particularly for viewers who are suckers for dramas about a family finding new ways to be close to each other. This movie may be a little pat and predictable, but it's sweet all the same, and parents will enjoy watching with their kids. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies that are based on books. Have you read the book that Kepler's Dream was based on? If so, which do you like better, and why? Is it better to read the book first, or watch the movie first? 

  • How do Rosie and Ella show curiosity and teamwork when they figure out how to find the Kepler book? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Grandmother Violet doesn't show her emotions easily. How does she demonstrate her affection for her granddaughter and her son? What evidence does she give? Is this a common trait in people in real life, that they display emotions through action? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love great girl characters

Character Strengths

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