starring Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano, David Gallagher, Vivica A. Fox
screenplay by Jessica Barondes
directed by Blair Treu
by Walter Chaw I fear that Blair Treu's Little Secrets is the latest picture to fall victim to my predisposition against insipid and trite films. The problem with my bias in this instance is that there is a considerable segment of the middle-class population at large that seems particularly enamoured with such fare, particularly as it manifests under the aegis of "family entertainment" or Meg Ryan movies. It's only a problem, I hasten to add, because I hate arguing with the upper-reaching bourgeoisie--there is no good way, after all, to explain to the fuzzily intractable why a self-pitying adopted girl who makes money like Lucy from the "Peanuts" strip while staying home to practice violin in anticipation of an orchestra tryout is more suited for the dinosaur prose of big-print Beverly Clearys than for the voluntary consumption of any self-respecting human being.
Emily (the alarmingly thin Evan Rachel Wood)--who is quick to snottily inform that she's named after Dickinson and Brontë ("Only the most famous poet and writer in the world," she speciously offers)--is a neighbourhood "secrets keeper," charging four bits for her tight lips from the neighbourhood's pathologically dishonest children. When cute boy David (David Gallagher) and his little brother Phillip (Michael Angarano) move in next door with some new secrets in tow, Emily's own big mystery threatens to turn her golden-hued life into an Afterschool Special. Aesop for dummies.
Cutesy and piping, Little Secrets is deeply irritating and vaguely disturbing. An Internet affair gone awry between a teen pop star and a nine-year-old threatens at every moment to explode into tragedy, while the pivotal revelation about Emily's pensive violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox) is as much an anti-climax as Eddie Murphy's last 15 years of work. Wood gives a performance earnest but impossibly self-righteous and perky--sort of a Jan Brady who looks like Marcia. The whole of the thing plays entirely too much like a sermon carefully calculated to establish false opportunities for cozy epiphanies and foster deadening speeches on topics as desultory as they are aggressively unsurprising. The argument may arise that Little Secrets has valuable lessons to teach youngsters regarding the dangerous oxymoron of its titular thing, but it occurs to me that a better lesson would be to educate your youngsters about thrift and discretion as it pertains to shelling out a few bucks to get drilled with prefab edutainment done up all pretty in a sappy wrapper. Originally published: August 23, 2002.