By Candice Carella | Drama
A single mother leaves her young daughter with a rock musician uncle.

Miko is a young 5-year-old girl whose mother, Claudia, has to go out of town on an important last-minute business trip. There is no other childcare available except for Miko's Uncle Jeff, an aging rock musician who hasn't quite faced up to reality and still wants to relive his glory days of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

He's not an ideal babysitter for a little girl at all, but he grudgingly takes Miko anyway. Caring for Miko proves to be a challenge, but she also becomes the catalyst for Jeff to look at his life and reconnect with his creative and emotional spark.

Written and directed by Candice Carella with straightforward simplicity, this heartwarming short family drama's pleasures and impact come from watching fully developed characters forge full, rich relationships with one another -- ones that nudge us to grow, learn and love more deeply.

On the longer side of a short film, the writing takes time to flesh out the emotional situations that have shaped each of the main characters. Miko's mother is hardworking and loving, but sometimes that love is expressed as hovering and anxious, which dampens her daughter's spirit at times. Jeff is still caught up in a rock 'n roll lifestyle, which makes him self-centered and dissolute.

The narrative picks up momentum when their stories and characters collide, finding both humor and conflict in their vastly different ages, temperaments and personalities. There's an odd couple dynamic in their interactions, and Jeff initially brushes off his responsibilities to Miko, leaving her somewhat to her own devices. Being a child, she naturally wreaks havoc on Jeff's set routines and lifestyle.

Actor Xander Berkeley -- a veteran actor from shows like The Walking Dead and 24 and films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day -- plays Jeff with compelling, fundamental decency. But he's not afraid to hit unsympathetic notes of self-absorption and selfishness. As the story unfurls and he gets to know Miko (played by young performer Miko Nakano with great charm and sweetness), his character is confronted with the decisions and events of the past that have shaped his present, which he has steadfastly avoided until now. But having Miko in his orbit reawakens the buried aspects of his self, which he can make peace with and then move forward from.

Sweet, heartwarming and unabashedly sincere, "Pony" is a story of both childhood and adulthood, and how we grow towards wholeness by facing up to our wounds, sadnesses and past traumas. Jeff's newfound friendship with Miko, and her innocence and the protectiveness that it demands from Jeff, help him embark on this journey. Though they're separated by a generation and life experience, they're both each other's teachers in different ways, helping one another with empathy, care and love.

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