Film Reviews: wednesday, August 22, 2002
Little Secrets
Starring Evan Rachel Wood and Michael Angarano. Directed by Blair Treu. Written by Jessica Barondes. Rated PG.
Bowing and Scraping

Evan Rachel Wood plays above the trite kidsí film Little Secrets.


If you caught the recently canceled tv drama Once and Again during its three-year run, youíre familiar with the outsized talents of 14-year-old Evan Rachel Wood, who played the angst-ridden, perfectionist middle daughter on the show. She has a small but significant role in Simone (see review above), but she has the lead role in the family film Little Secrets, which also opens this week. Intelligent, crisp, winsome, and able to convey the full range of her characterís emotions without a hitch, she proves to be fully up to the task of carrying a movie. Too bad the film itself isnít up to her level.

She plays Emily Lindstrom, an aspiring concert violinist who wears the overachiever label very comfortably. While her friends are off at summer camp, sheís at home practicing for an important audition for the local youth symphony orchestra. Much like Lucy from Peanuts with her psychiatric advice booth, Emily runs a service for the neighborhood kids. For a 50-cent fee, she counsels them on matters that theyíd rather keep private, most of them involving stuff that theyíve broken belonging to their parents. Her discretion keeps the customers coming back, but of course, she has some secrets of her own.

Those secrets donít turn out to be very interesting or difficult to guess, although Wood does her best to convince us that theyíre important to her. The thing is, everybody in this movie has his or her own secret, from her dad (Rick Macy) to the older kid next door (David Gallagher) to her violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox), and each gets a watery speech to reveal it to her. A veritable snowstorm of trite moralizing erupts as Emily comes to realize that keeping secrets is bad. Director Blair Treu and writer Jessica Barondes, both of whom have extensive backgrounds in kidsí entertainment, steer the film into every sentimental trap. The movieís nadir comes near the end, as Emily has a brush with death which comes off as a clumsy and rather cynical attempt to inject some pathos into the proceedings.

The story has one genuine element, though, and thatís Emilyís love of music. The filmmakers have a pretty clear sense of how music can be central to a personís life and what kind of spiritual fulfillment it can bring. If you have a kid who plays an instrument and is serious about it, this might well be an inspiring movie for him or her. (Then again, it might be intimidating if you donít know that Wood isnít actually playing ó she has the violinistís posture down pretty well. Whoeverís playing on the soundtrack is good, essaying Mozart and particularly Mendelssohnís Violin Concerto with an assured technique and tone, and even a bit of flair.)

Thereís one other performance that deserves mention: Michael Angarano, best known as the 11-year-old version of the main character in Almost Famous, does good work as the new kid on the block who makes friends with Emily. He and the star have a convincing friendship, but they canít disguise the fact that this material is better suited to the Olsen twins. The future efforts of Angarano and especially Wood will bear watching far more than does Little Secrets.

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