How Isabela Moner has emerged as one of the breakthrough movie talents of the past 12 months.

In terms of fast-rising young movie star talents, there are a few names that are rightly getting attention. In particular, it’s been a stellar 12 months for the brilliant Florence Pugh, with more to come in the form of this winter’s Little Women. Tom Holland’s career trajectory is north, backed by interesting choices and the fact that he’s the incumbent Spider-Man.

But I want to add the name of Isabela Moner into the mix. Because I think she too is an exciting talent, who in UK cinemas this year has put in two excellent performances in two big mainstream movies.

Moner has been acting for many years already, and even before she got to the age of 17, she’d notched up credits in the likes of Transformers: The Last Knight and an assortment of TV work. But she got a major break in last year’s Sicario: Day Of The Soldado and more than held her own in a terrific ensemble.

But it’s this year’s films I want to zero in on, because she’s been the standout in two of the most pleasant mainstream movie surprises of the year.

The first came in the form of Instant Family, a movie that was released in the US to some acclaim at the end of 2018, and in the UK this past February. But it was hardly coming to our shores on the back of cavalcade of rave reviews and stories of billion dollar box office takes. Sure, it’d hit, but most people I was talking to in advance were calling it ‘that upcoming Mark Wahlberg comedy’. Which it was.

Yet Instant Family is much more than that. It’s a film with a real heart to it, a Hollywood comedy wrapped around a story of adoption, and the real human emotions involved. I can’t do the film much justice, as it just deserves to be seen. Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are the headliners, and both are on strong form.

But the glue, for me, was Moner. She took on the role of Lizzy the nominal difficult child of a trio of adoptees. With large credit too to director Sean Anders (who based the film around his real-life experiences) and his co-writer John Morris, they all gave life to a character that goes beyond what could have been an obvious cliché. Lizzy is torn between caring for her two younger siblings – who have been regularly let down by the system – and trying to find some life for herself. And I think Moner portrays this brilliantly. I genuinely think her work in that film is one of the most underrated mainstream performances of the last year – along with Florence Pugh in Fighting With My Family –  and then she ices the cake by doing a song over the end credits.

But then she goes and does that again with Dora And The Lost City Of Gold. And that’s the film where she demonstrates both her range, and her ability to headline a major Hollywood movie.

If you haven’t had the pleasure – and it really is a pleasure – Dora And The Lost City Of Gold was one of the most enjoyable films of the summer just gone, a live action (mainly) take on the Dora The Explorer TV series.

Moner takes on the role of Dora in a film that becomes something of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, a comparison that in this case is a compliment rather than a criticism. For as well as gently having fun with conventions of such films, the movie has at the heart of it a lot of fun, and a bunch of character it’s a delight to spend time with. And the standout, once again, is Moner.

At 18 years old, she’s basically the lead of a Hollywood action adventure movie, and more than that, one of the best films of its ilk the mainstream system has churned out over the past few years. She’s a terrific lead, has real screen presence, and left me wanting to see more of Dora’s adventures on the big screen. Credit, of course, goes to director James Bobin and his team too (including writers Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson). But I suspect that he too would admit he had an upcoming movie star at the heart of his movie.

The Dora movie fell short box office-wise sadly, a real pity given that it’s – in my view – a better family movie choice than another Disney live action take on one of its animated properties (and I’ve enjoyed a few of those). But hopefully, when the film makes it to disc, more and more will discover what those of us who enjoyed the Dora film at the cinema over the summer did: that the film is a treat, and Moner is a real acting talent.

Next up for her is Netflix-backed Christmas romcom Let It Snow. And beyond that, I can but hope that the acting opportunities open up that her talent clearly deserves.

I think, anyway, we’re increasingly in an era where people are reticent to say nice things about other people, lest they be accused of having an agenda, or just hit by internet snark anyway. I’m having no shrift with that. I think Isabela Moner is brilliant, and if you’ve not had the pleasure of Instant Family and Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, you’re really missing out.

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