Monday, January 3, 2011

'Nancy Drew' is a fun and respectful adaptation

Nancy Drew (2007)
Starring: Emma Roberts, Tate Donovan, Max Thieriot, Marshall Bell, and Laura Harring
Director: Andrew Fleming
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Kid detective and all-around genius Nancy Drew (Roberts) temporarily moves with her father (Donovan) to Los Angeles due to his work. Here, she becomes interested in decades-old mysteries swirling around the now-dead actress (Harring) who once lived in house they are renting. But someone wants the past to stay buried, and they'll bury Nancy too if they must.

"Nancy Drew" sat in my "To Watch" pile for at least two years. If I'd known how cute and funny it was, I might have watched it sooner. It's not often these days where a remake/adaptation of some classic bit of pop culture gets treated with the sort of respect that the Nancy Drew property got; filmmakers and owners of intellectual properties now seem far more interested in crapping all over older IPs in the hopes of seeming clever and making a quick buck instead of trying to carry them forward for a new generation... and even more potential riches in the future. Yes, "Nancy Drew" has many funny moments--including some satirical ones--but it never mocked the characters or the idea of Nancy as as the perfect girl that every parent would want and that every intelligent, bookish girl would want to be like. I've never read girl's adventure/mystery fiction, but the plot and activities here hewed close to the sort of material I remember from the kids' mysteries I read that I think this film was perhaps even more faithful to the source material than even the films from the 1930s were (Click here for reviews.)

A great deal of this film's success rests with a great script that, as I mentioned above, captures the essence of classic kids' mystery fiction, but also manages to bring plenty of modern vibes to it. Although Nancy is out of step with her peers--something she acknowledges, is okay with, and even takes a small degree of pride in--the film is very much set among modern teenagers and reflective of modern teenage behavior; cell phones and all that comes with them play a key part in many aspects of the film. The script also provides a cast of likable characters, every one of which you wouldn't having to spend time with (except for the bad guys).

This film also presents Nancy Drew as an ideal role model for young girls. She wants to have friends and to get along with her peers, but she is not willing to sacrifice who she is at the expense of fitting in, and she does not give in to peer pressure. She is interested in learning everything she can, and she invariably turns around and discovers a use for what she has learned. When a task is set before her, she always tries to over-achieve. It's a great movie to watch with your pre-teens and young teens... and it's a movie that all of you will be able to enjoy. The mystery at its center is complex enough that both kids and adults can be entertained by it, and the script is artfully enough crafted that the audience gets the clues as Nancy does so we try to solve the mystery before she does. Other great aspects of the script--which was co-written by director Andrew Flemming--is a touching element in Nancy's back story and psychological make-up that explains her drive to solve mysteries; and a great gag bit that plays around with Hollywood stereotypes and features one of the funniest cameos by a major star playing himself (in this case, Bruce Willis) that I've ever seen.

Fifteen year-old Emma Roberts was perfectly cast in the role. An exceptionally young actress, she has great screen presence, great comedic timing, and enough range to take Nancy from her usual, optimistic and extremely extroverted state to a more subdued emotional state when things go against her at one point in the film. The scene where Nancy talks about why she feels the need to solve mysteries, one of the few emotional moments in this fast-moving and upbeat mystery romp, could easily have fallen flat or come across as sickeningly maudlin in the hands of a lesser actress, and Roberts talent really shined through there.

Roberts also has more charm and grace in her on-screen persona than Bonita Granville exhibited when she played the character in the old black-and-white movies... although in Granville's defense, the script Roberts had behind her is better than anything Granville dealt with. (Interestingly, Nancy's boyfriend is virtually identical between the two versions, with him patiently putting up with the way she is always dragging him into some strange adventure or another, because he knows that she simply can't help herself. The look of the two actors playing the parts--Max Thieriot in this version and Frankie Thomas in the old films--even look similar.)

This is a fun movie that is literally for the entire family, especially if there are lots of girls in the house.