It almost feels bad criticizing a movie like Little Secrets, because it's heart is in the right place. Director Blair Treu (The Brainiacs.com, Wish Upon a Star) and writer Jessica Barondes (Wish Upon a Star) do their best to make a 'family' movie, but like most other 'family' movies, this does not mean it is good. Usually, it means that it is patently inoffensive and has a good moral lesson. What it is missing is a broad appeal across all ages, so that the entire family can sit together and enjoy it. It is probably a little to preachy for children, and a little to simplistic for adults. Treu and Barondes never take any chances with the material, going for a very straightforward approach to tell the message that it is not good to keep secrets from friends.
The primary secret keeper is Emily (Evan Rachel Wood, Simone, Practical Magic). She has a little stand in her yard where she charges fifty cents to keep the secrets of neighborhood children. Her guarantee is that she will never divulge a secret to anybody. What the kids don't know is that she has her own secret she is hiding from them. It's summertime, and for once, Emily is not at camp with her friends. She is practicing violin everyday in preparation for the symphony tryouts. Although she is very good, her parents just don't seem to understand her. Her mother is pregnant, and Emily is resentful of her upcoming sibling. Her new neighbor Philip (Michael Angarano, Say Uncle, Almost Famous) is infatuated with her, as is his brother David (David Gallagher, Phenomenon, Richie Rich's Christmas Wish). They each have their secrets also. This summer, Emily finds that all the secrets she knows become a liability. She knows things that she should tell, but she cannot. When events begin happening, all these secrets snowball together and effectively ruin her life.
Wood is a talented up-and-coming actor, and can certainly fake the violin with style, but it is her character that needs work. In order to redeem herself at the end, Emily comes off as somewhat of a jerk. The script even has her telling children how to hide their mistakes. It is to help them, but doesn't come off too well since she is telling them to lie. Once Philip tells her something about David, she refuses to try to befriend him. It is all for a very specific reason, and it's pretty easy to guess what it is long before Treu reveals it. The same goes for her 'secret.' The worst thing that Treu does is what most directors rely on in movies like this. He uses a certain deus ex machina that ruins a tempo that is beginning to build. This is the catalyst that drives everything together in the end, but Little Secrets really didn't need to use it, since it was actually moving along rather nicely.
It feels like many missed opportunities. Little Secrets is probably one of the more child-friendly movies in recent memory. There is very little material that people can even possibly construe as objectionable, and only a moron can miss the lesson that Treu and Barondes are trying to tell. However, they opt for whatever is safest, which means they do what everybody else did before them. This makes for a movie that plays like connect the dots, so it becomes duller than it otherwise should be. All of the younger actors are there primarily for their cuteness factor. Vivica A. Fox (Juwanna Mann, Two Can Play That Game) makes an appearance as Emily's violin teacher. It makes one wonder why Fox keeps trolling around in stupid comedies instead of opting for better roles, which she seems to do less these days. She does a fantastic job here, but she has much too little screen time to make a difference.
|Mongoose Rates It: Okay.|
|1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements.|
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