SPLICEDwire (www.splicedonline.com) (Bob Blackwelder)
'SECRETS' SAFE, WILL PLEASE
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
Teenage girl takes confession from naughty neighborhood kids in simplistic, innocuous but adequately entertaining adolescent flick
A movie about a teenager that wouldn't have credibility with anyone over the age of 12, "Little Secrets" is something akin to a Wonderful World of Disney special -- harmless, wholesome and just barely winning enough to overcome its fantasy-suburban, Norman Rockwell nature.
It's the story of Emily (Evan Rachel Wood, also in this week's "Simone"), a pretty 14-year-old who is at an age when her priorities are moving toward pursuing her gift for the violin and away from her lemonade-stand style "business" as a professional confessor. For 50 cents per secret, intelligent, outgoing Emily has provided confidentiality and advice to neighborhood kids who have broken parents' favorite trinkets, smuggled kittens into their bedrooms or posed as their big sisters in online chat rooms.
The pat-on-the-head plot revolves both around Emily's friendship with Philip, an 11-year-old new neighbor who has a crush on her (played by Michael Angarano, the pre-teen William Miller in "Almost Famous") and around her upcoming audition for a youth orchestra. But at the same time, her secret-keeping is becoming a burden, as she starts hearing mea culpas she wishes she hadn't -- like the fact that Philip's petulant proto-boy-band cute older brother (David Gallagher) was in a joy-riding accident with a friend who had been drinking. Emily's disproportionately piqued reaction to this tidbit hints heavily at a secret of her own that the rest of the movie builds toward revealing.
Simplistic and under-ambitious, "Little Secrets" is propped up by the performances of Wood and Angarano. They are both such appealing kids and natural actors that the picture's overly idyllic setting, its annoyingly plinky-jolly score and its unrealistic, everything-can-be-fixed-with-a-pep-talk take on teenage life aren't as irritating (to adults anyway) as they might be otherwise.
Grasping for a catalyst to bring the story to a conclusion in the last act, screenwriter Jessica Barondes and director Blair Treu (who made the Disney Channel's "Wish Upon A Star" together) invent a minor catastrophe to force characters at odds to come together and resume warm-fuzzy camaraderies. The contrived nature of this plot device is so transparent that an ambulance-worthy injury results in little more than a Band-Aid on somebody's forehead. But the artifice does the trick anyway. Even your cynical movie critic was affected a little by the movie's climax.
"Little Secrets" has been ringingly endorsed by something called the Heartland Film Festival, which sounds like exactly what it is: an organization that places content over quality in an attempt to promote "family values." But if you're a parent desperate for a movie you can take your youngster to without worrying about sex or violence, "Little Secrets" fits the bill without being it's-just-a-kids'-movie insipid.
Spirituality and Health Magazine
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Samuel Goldwyn 08/02 Feature Film
We all have secrets -- things that we feel bad or guilty about, things we wish had never happened. Some of these have harmed others; most have also injured our souls and psyches. There are secrets we only share with those who are closest to us. And there are those we keep hidden away from everyone. This family film directed by Blair Treu and written by Jessica Barondes zeroes in on this interesting and not often explored topic that plays such a central role in our private lives as children. Although the material is very melodramatic and predictable, there is enough here of interest for families to enjoy and ponder.
Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) is a very disciplined and talented violinist who feels neglected at home since her middle-aged mother is pregnant. Her two best friends are away at camp and miss her. But she is working very hard preparing to audition at a local symphony. Her music teacher (Vivica A. Fox) believes that she has a good shot at making it.
All of Emily's spare time is spent as the neighborhood's Secret Keeper. For fifty cents a secret, she listens to the confessions of kids and dispenses advice. Her pint-sized clients include a thief, a catcher of stray cats, a little girl who has misrepresented herself on the Internet, and a boy whose adventuresome schemes keep him busy playing many different roles.
When Philip (Michael Angarano) moves in next-door, Emily soon has a companion for the summer. She keeps a secret for him -- the fact that he has broken a precious knight in his father's expensive chess set. And when he finds out how talented she is, Philip even begins taking piano lessons again. But their relationship is put in jeopardy when his older brother David (David Gallagher) is booted out of tennis camp for breaking the rules. Philip tells Emily the reason why and afterwards wishes he hadn't done so.
Evan Rachel Wood holds this family drama together with a richly nuanced performance. Michael Angarano is good as Philip; his facial mannerisms remind us of the the talented actor Robert Forster. Vivica A. Fox is convincing as Emily's music teacher. She's the one who helps her see the light in regard to secrets.
Kansas City Star
Posted on Fri, Aug. 23, 2002
Secret's out: This movie worth seeing
By ROBERT W. BUTLER
The Kansas City Star
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
Don't let the first half-hour or so of "Little Secrets" put you off too much. Leaving the chute, this Salt Lake City-lensed family film tries too hard to be cute and quickly suggests we're in for a feature-length version of an uplifting "After School Special."
You can practically hear the cynics in the audience wilting.
But stick with it and you may find some unexpected pleasures here, especially performances by two adolescent stars who elevate the film above some often-shaky writing.
Our heroine is Emily (Evan Rachel Wood), a 14-year-old having a love affair with her violin. As much at home with Mozart as Eminem, Emily is determined to win a seat in the local youth symphony.
In the manner of many movies made for kids by adults who don't quite remember what childhood is really like, she's precocious in other ways. Like the cartoon Lucy, who operates a counseling service for kids in the "Peanuts" strip, Emily has a sideline business "keeping secrets." Younger kids come to her to air their guilty consciences; Emily takes the evidence of their little crimes (broken crockery, a purloined candy bar), seals it in a paper bag and places it in a large steamer trunk. Their misbehavior has been tucked away out of sight.
But despite her model child demeanor and big ambitions, Emily isn't as secure as you might think. After years as an only child, Emily and her parents are awaiting the birth of a sibling at the end of a very unexpected pregnancy. Worse, Emily learns a big family secret that rocks her world: She's adopted.
Meanwhile she strikes up a friendship with the new kid on the block, Philip (Michael Angarano). Though a year her junior, Philip is awed by his brainy neighbor and sick with puppy love -- a situation not improved by Emily's interest in his big brother, David (David Gallagher).
What's interesting about all this is the way writer Jessica Barondes and director Blair Treu work their recurring theme of the destructive nature of secrets, the idea that when you hold things back from the people you care about you're building a wall that just gets higher and higher.
That's a heavy topic for a film aimed primarily at children, and "Little Secrets" sometimes lays it on too thickly. But Wood and Angarano are such solid performers that we hang on even when the material gets iffy. Wood has a poise and gravity way out of proportion to her youth; Angarano (you may recognize him as Jack's son from TV's "Will and Grace") is a first-class comic actor, with a great repertoire of sly expressions that speak volumes without dialogue and a sense of timing that would be the envy of many an adult thespian.
"Little Secrets" is essentially star-free -- the only "name" in the cast is Vivica A. Fox ("Independence Day"), who plays Emily's violin coach, a woman with secrets of her own. And lacking the exploitable rudeness of most contemporary films about kids, "Secrets" may have a tough time getting youngsters into the theater.
But at a recent afternoon screening a crowd of preteens laughed, cried and stuck with Emily and her friends to the very end. So who knows?
Share 'Little Secrets' with your children
Published: Friday, August 23, 2002
*** [3 out of 4 stars]
Plenty of parents sit through animated and live-action movies with their children -- you love 'em, so you take 'em -- but how often do Mom and Dad really enjoy those movies that they so dutifully see?
Little Secrets is one for the kids AND their parents. It's a beguiling exploration of friendship, trust, truth, insecurity and, yes, secrets. Though it seems aimed at preteens and younger teenagers, the movie should appeal to just about anyone.
Directed by Blair Treu and written by Jessica Barondes, Little Secrets centers on Emily (Evan Rachel Wood), a slender and talented young violinist who has skipped summer camp to prepare for a crucial symphony audition. Emily's hobby -- actually she gets paid for it -- is listening as the neighborhood kids unburden themselves of secrets and often hiding the evidence of misbehavior. Emily, of course, has secrets of her own.
When a new family moves in next door, younger brother Philip (Michael Angarano) soon becomes one of Emily's best buds, though it's older brother David (David Gallagher) who gets her heart racing.
At the same time, only-child Emily is dreading the imminent arrival of a sibling. Her lack of enthusiasm, which sometimes drifts into downright hostility, seems puzzling, until you finally learn one of her secrets.
Writer Barondes beautifully captures the quirks of kids, their eccentricities and vulnerability and dreaminess. The lead kids, all television veterans (Wood played Jessie on Once and Again, Angarano is Jack's son on Will and Grace, Gallagher is a regular on Seventh Heaven), are sensitive, solid actors. Vivica A. Fox plays a key role as Pauline, Emily's mentor and violin teacher, a woman forced to come to terms with her own secret.
Generally speaking, as Emily stresses, if you're entrusted with a secret, you must keep it. But Little Secrets is one worth sharing.
Column: Movie Parables (Christian Critic.com / The Christian Critic Circle)
A MOVIE PARABLE: LITTLE SECRETS
Artistic value: 2 1/2 stars
Comments: This is a secret worth telling.
Simple and sweet. Will appeal to anyone who has ever read a Babysitters' Club book.
1 John 1:3
Little Secrets seems to be intent on keeping itself a secret. This family-oriented film may be coming in under the media radar, opening in just a handful of theaters, but here's hoping that its warmth and sweet-natured heart will generate enough word-of-mouth praise that audiences will seek it out.
14-year-old Emily (Evan Rachel Wood, Simone) is known throughout the neighborhood as "the secret keeper." For fifty cents, Emily doles out advice, keeps secrets, and stashes evidence for the precocious children that populate her "Leave It To Beaver-like" community. Surprisingly, there's no lacking for business as each day a long line of kids (regular clients apparently) stretches from her "secrets booth."
When not manning her booth, Emily is practicing her violin in preparation for a prestigious youth orchestra audition. She is so devoted to her music that when a televised concert is broadcast on PBS, she'll dress in an evening gown, place her music stand in front of the TV, and play along with the orchestra. If her TV is not available, she'll just go door to door around the block looking for one that is.
When a new family moves in next door, Emily will learn that not all secrets are healthy and some can be downright detrimental. Brothers Philip (Michael Angarano, Almost Famous) and David (David Gallagher, 7th Heaven) both take an interest in Emily and learn just how important keeping a secret is to her. Perhaps it's because she got a few of her own... and hers aren't that little.
Director Blair Treu and screenwriter Jessica Barondes last teamed up to make the family film Wish Upon A Star. Here, they have deliberately crafted a movie which is a bit predictable, a bit heavy on the schmaltz, and a bit anachronistic in its depiction of suburban family life. Still, there's something about it that brings forth memories of simpler times. Besides, it has been a while since a film has targeted the oft-neglected "tweenie" age group as its primary audience. Young girls especially will connect with this story about friendship and secrets.
Evan Rachel Wood carries the film and, like the character she plays, demonstrates a confidence and maturity beyond her years. Michael Angarano does well as a 12-year-old smitten smart aleck. David Gallagher is also well cast as his older brother, a teen aged hunk with just a hint of PG "bad boy" behavior.
Not all is sweetness and light in the world of Little Secrets. It tackles, though on a superficial level, some pretty major topics of interest. Drunk driving, lying, taking responsibility for one's actions, and sibling rivalry are all covered in this school age morality tale.
The major lesson learned, however, deals with secrets kept and secrets told. The moral being delivered is this: if we really want to be close to someone else, having secrets isn't going to accomplish it. This is a lesson God teaches as well. God has invited us to fellowship (full sharing) with Him and with all whom He has called to the body of Christ.
"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." 1 John 1:3 (KJV)
It is impossible to keep a secret from God because He's the searcher of hearts. Therefore, the real emphasis of this scripture is our ability to fully share with one another because of our shared spiritual relationship with Him.
Telling the truth can sometimes be difficult. But if we want a relationship to grow in strength and closeness, there is no substitute for truth delivered and received in love.
Having a secret will always put a limit on how much we share and how much we give. A true fellowship has no such limitation. When we find people who love God and honestly desire to live according to His ways, we find people with whom we may live honestly and openly, sharing our hearts and our lives without reservation.
c/o Movie Parables
Los Angeles New Times [or "New Times Los Angeles"?]
Alt. Source: Dallas Observer (http://www.dallasobserver.com/issues/2002-08-22/film2.html/1/index.html)
White-bread girl with tame issues keeps secrets for 50 cents a pop.
BY BILL GALLO
Directed By: Blair Treu
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano, David Gallagher and Vivica A. Fox
Written By: Jessica Barondes
Week of August 22, 2002
Citizen-soldiers eager to renew hostilities in the American culture wars can shoot a couple of spitballs at each other this week over Little Secrets, a teen-anxiety movie that leaves no doubt where it stands on "family values" and moral absolutes: It approves. The shock troops of the Cinema Without Limits army are unlikely to buy many tickets, but those who do will probably see the thing as sanctimonious pabulum -- even for its target audience of adolescents. You could make book on it.
While the combatants skirmish, here are a few facts. Shot in a well-scrubbed, tree-shaded, happily prosperous suburb of Salt Lake City, Secrets tells the uplifting tale of 14-year-old Emily Lindstrom (blond, blue-eyed Evan Rachel Wood, from ABC's Once and Again), another young movie heroine with talent and problems. An only child, Emily studies violin (she's a bit show-offy about it) and dreams of playing in the symphony, but she's upset over the impending birth of a sibling. Not only that, she's growing ever more conflicted about the peculiar business she runs. For some reason, the other neighborhood kids, cute-as-a-button all, are willing to pay her 50 cents a shot to safeguard their guilty secrets -- breaking Mom's precious teacup, a boy's urge to dig his way to China, a tiny girl's forbidden addiction to kittens. Truth is, confessor Emily's got a deep, dark secret of her own. She's -- yes -- adopted, and even her best friends don't know. From this, the filmmakers spin a major trauma (or try to), and eventually instruct all present on the necessity of honesty, the treasures of family love and, while they're at it, the evils of drunk driving.
"There's a lot of toxic stuff out there," director Blair Treu declares in a manifesto tucked into the studio's press notes. "I should portray stories and people in a positive, redemptive light."
Redemption is certainly the strong suit of this Disney Channel veteran. Along with product placements for certain brands of candy and breakfast cereal, and some tourist-brochure views of downtown Salt Lake, Treu and screenwriter Jessica Barondes (they earlier collaborated on Wish Upon a Star) serve up soul-cleansing portions of sweetness and light, salted with some minor friction. Emily makes friends with 12-year-old Philip (Michael Angarano) who's moved in next door. She meets regularly with her wise and patient violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox) at the local music store and doggedly prepares for an orchestra audition that we just know she'll have to miss. She spars with her squeaky-clean parents. She worries. And her secret-keeping biz goes sour when Barondes' plot compels the teen heroine to break her vows of secrecy.
Inevitably comes the moment of truth. After falling off a roof and winding up in a hospital bed, Emily renounces her backyard extortion racket in favor of transparency, full disclosure and full refunds to the kids who parted with their hard-earned allowance money. Through her friends' loyalty, she wins a spot in a youth orchestra. She bonds with Mom at the birth of her sister and gets a first glimpse of romance via Philip's older brother David (David Gallagher). Then everyone goes home, according to director Treu's mission statement, "feeling a little better about the world or a little better about yourself than when you laid down your seven bucks."
Whether you part with those seven bucks is your business. So is how you actually feel afterward.
newtimesla.com | originally published: August 22, 2002
It's okay if Little Secrets resembles a Disney Afterschool Special; director Blair Treu worked for Walt Disney Pictures before teaming up with writer/producer Jessica Bardones on their first feature Wish Upon a Star. As written by Bantam Books refugee Bardones, Little Secrets could easily be called Amelia Bedelia Has Something Up Her Sleeves. Violinist Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) does her service to the community by charging kids in the neighborhood fifty cents for their secrets. When Philip (Michael Angarano) moves into the neighborhood, he brings with him a naughty older brother whose criminal ways push Emily over the edge. Both routine and naive, this indie kid's flick may be more maudlin than its Hollywood incarnations yet it's noticeably without pretenses. The expletives come in the form of "holy guacamole!" and the only irony here is that secrets aren't so little. It's only a matter of time then before the cat's out of the bag, the sh-- hits the fan and Emily learns that some secrets are best left in the open. Good for sedating uppity pre-pubescent girls, Little Secrets will be eye-rollingly familiar for adults and older kids.
© slant magazine, 2002.
PG // August 23, 2002
Review by Geoffrey Kleinman | posted August 15, 2002
MOVIE grade: 3 out of 5 stars
REPLAY grade: 2 out of 5 stars
Good films for young teens are few and far between. Most films aimed at this target audience are more the over-the-top, cartoony variety or the extremely sappy and storybook kind. Rarely do you find a film for young teens that is serious, emotional and at all complex. Little Secrets is a little film with a big heart; it makes a real attempt at being a 'quality' teen film.
Little Secrets is really two films, or at least two stories. In one sense it's a story about a teen named Emily who every Wednesday for fifty cents a pop sits down and 'keeps' the secrets of all the neighborhood kids. Broke mom's ming vase? Never fear, you can confess your secret to Emily and she'll help you cover it up. In another sense Little Secrets is about a teen girl following her love and passion for music while at the same time going through the period of time where she begins to learn the difference between 'friend' and 'boy friend'. I really wish writer Jessica Barondes would have stuck with the coming of age story over the secrets one as it's really the much more compelling of the two.
The most enjoyable parts of Little Secrets are the scenes which revolve around Emily and her music. It's great to see such a positive portrayal of a teen and her passion for music. I also liked how the characters around her are touched by her passion, as if it were contagious. Little Secrets also has a nice theme running through it of friendship, and I think it speaks very well to the period of time when a girl is really discovering boys and trying to sort out who is a friend and who is a possible romantic interest. The film does this quite well with a relationship between Emily and the two brothers who live next door, Phillip and David, and I really liked the scene with the two brothers as they discuss being able to see Emily's beauty. Make no mistake about it, Little Secrets has some really nice and genuine moments.
Unfortunately Little Secrets also has not so great and not so well crafted moments. The entire sub-plot with Emily being the neighborhood secret keeper (this the film's title) never really works. On the front end its strange to see a teen advise other kids to lie and cheat and then on the back it feels really preachy when the effects of the lying and cheating come back to roost. In this category a Director has to walk a careful balance between a feature film and an afterschool special and this sub-plot really pushes the scales towards afterschool special.
Despite some really big problems with the script, Director Blair Treu does get some very strong performances from his actors. Evan Rachel Wood (who is best known for her role in Once and Again) does a very good job in the lead role of Emily. She's got a nice emotional range which will suit her well in her blooming career. Michael Angarano, who plays Phillip, the younger neighbor boy, is also quite good. Angarano seems very at ease in his role and gives a very real and genuine performance. I was especially glad to see Vivica A. Fox in a good role. Many of the film role she takes are over the top, and in Little Secrets she gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Emily's music teacher.
Final Thoughts Little Secrets has enough problems to keep it from being a great film, but with so few quality films out there for teens it a strong contender in a weak field. Unlike some of the better kids films (like Stuart Little 2) which are fun for both kids and parents, Little Secrets is probably best enjoyed by teens, but that make sense - after all, they constantly contend we never 'really understand them'.
Blair Treu, 2002
Our rating: ** [2 out of 5 stars]
Some of those secrets of yours
Simplistic, formulaic and painfully sweet, this gratingly didactic tale about the price of keeping confidences is buoyed by Evan Rachel Wood's lovely performance as 14-year-old Emily, a gravely beautiful violin student who's unusually sympathetic to the troubles of younger children. It's summertime, and while Emily's best friends are away at camp, she's at home preparing for an audition she hopes will land her a spot in a well-regarded local youth orchestra. Things are hectic on the home front because Emily's parents are expecting a new baby, but Emily makes time to practice, take classes with her supportive teacher, Pauline (Vivica A. Fox), and preside over the secular confessional she runs in her back yard. Emily's altruistic hobby allows neighborhood kids own up to the little transgressions they've concealed from everyone else -- breaking a piece from dad's ornate chess set, keeping a forbidden kitten, stealing candy bars, impersonating an older sister in an online chat room -- secure in the knowledge that Emily will never tell. Emily's compassion is, of course, born of the fact that she's got something to hide: Emily is adopted and, for reasons that are eventually revealed, doesn't want anyone to know. Emily strikes up a friendship with one penitent, 11-year-old neighbor Philip (Michael Angarano), and indulges in a brief flirtation with Philip's dreamboat older brother (David Gallagher), who's scheduled to spend most of the summer away at tennis camp. And then things get complicated, as they always do. Apparently harmless secrets cause hurt feelings, damage friendships and divide siblings, and Emily reluctantly concludes that in the long run, it's better to tell the truth. Make a note. Directed by Bair Treu and written by young-adult novelist Jessica Barondes, this preachy little tale wears its positive message and wholesome values on its sleeve, and while you can't fault its intentions, it's crafted rather than imagined. Angarano and Wood make Philip and Emily feel like real youngsters, but the rest of the kids (not to mention their parents) are all character business and no actual character, which makes the fact that their problems are object lessons all the more apparent. The film is dull going, even for the pre-adolescents at whom it's aimed, and feels far longer than it actually is. --Maitland McDonagh
Film Journal International
Winsome kid comedy has some refreshing thoughtfulness to it, as well as a bang-up performance by Michael Anganaro.
August 28, 2002
Fourteen year-old Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) is nothing if not ambitious. Home for the summer to practice for her violin audition for the prestigious San Francisco Youth Orchestra, she has also set up a cottage industry as keeper of secrets and giver of advice (for a fee) of all the neighborhood kids she knows. These dark mysteries cover everything from broken household valuables and hidden, forbidden kittens to a naughty little girl chatting up teenage guys on the Internet. Even Emily's violin instructor (Vivica A. Fox) is hiding something! When Philip (Michael Angarano) moves into the neighborhood, he falls in love with Emily, as does his "edgy" older brother (David Gallagher), whose delinquent ways prove a definite challenge to Emily's perfectly ordered life.
How Disney "After School Special" can you get? Here, very, as director Blair Treu takes Jessica Barondes' perky script and makes an updated Pollyanna of it. Little Secrets is a winsome, welcomely earnest respite from the louder, crasser fare aimed at kids these days. High-minded juvenile heroines like Emily are indeed rare, and who knows? Just maybe her love of classical music and natural non-comformity might have a salutary effect on all those N Sync/Britney-obsessed mall rats out there. True has a nice storytelling technique and uses speeded-up action and quirky camera angles to create an entire universe out of Emily's neighborhood. The film occasionally veers into overt precociousness, but, withal, is harmlessly light family fare. The juvenile actors are definitely superior to the adults here, as those performing as parents all work a tad too hard at their satirically clueless, matured personas. Wood, with a rather bothersome signature strand of hair hanging in her eyes, makes an attractive teen princess, whose controlling antics cause her a furrowed brow or two. But it's the talented Angarano who makes this really worth watching. Hopelessly besotted by Emily, who simply can't conceive of a love for anyone two full years younger than her, he's an ardent, pint-sized Romeo, with sneaky charm to spare. (Although I could have done without his breakdancing routine to Mozart.)
Little Secrets (2002)
movie review by Steve Rhodes, Steve Rhodes' Internet Reviews
Rating: FRESH (3/4)
Little Secrets is a sweet little movie, and you don't have to keep that a secret.
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): ***
Dresses. In Blair Treu's slice-of-young-life story, LITTLE SECRETS, Emily is one of the most wholesome 14-year-olds you're ever likely to see on the screen or in real life. Even around her neighborhood, she likes to wear smart looking dresses almost exclusively. Only in the movie's best and final act, when the story turns serious, does Emily finally relax and start wearing slacks.
Emily is played by Evan Rachel Wood, Al Pacino's daughter in S1M0NE, and, like the rest of the young actors in the movie, she is sweet but still learning her craft. The picture, which plays like a television movie for a kids' cable network, is getting a theatrical release. Even if the dialog sounds less like kids' conversations than how adults wish they would talk, the movie has a certain irresistibleness to it. Living in a utopian suburbia with broad streets, wide lawns, tall trees and huge houses, Emily manages to be a shining example of how we wish teens would cope with their problems. Usually when movies show anything this perfect looking, highly dysfunctional families live behind every door. As moviegoers, we have been cynically trained to look for and expect child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. Our job is to guess which activity will occur behind which door. Although they have their problems, the families in LITTLE SECRETS are there to be admired rather than ridiculed. This is a refreshing change.
Like Lucy in "Charlie Brown," Emily runs a booth for the local kids. For a fee of fifty cents, the neighborhood kids get to tell Emily their secrets. She doesn't prescribe "Hail Mary's," but she does sometimes offer advice. She also collects and saves the tangible evidence, such as broken china, of the kids' secrets. As you might guess, Emily has a pretty big secret of her own that she needs to get off her chest but can't.
As the story starts, 12-year-old Philip (Michael Angarano) and his 15-year-old brother David (David Gallagher) are moving in next door to Emily. Emily, a hard-working violinist, becomes best buddies with Philip. David, who catches her eye initially, will eventually win her heart. But, Emily is busy practicing for and worrying about her upcoming audition with the prestigious youth symphony. Her parents have been ignoring her since they have a baby on the way. With her mom in her 40s and her dad in his 50s, the new arrival is repeatedly called "the miracle baby."
It isn't until the last act that the movie really comes together. A simple story, it never beats its messages into our heads. The most obvious of its homilies is, "Secrets hurt." LITTLE SECRETS is a sweet little movie, and you don't have to keep that a secret.
LITTLE SECRETS runs 1:37. It is rated PG for "thematic elements" and would be acceptable for all ages.
My son Jeffrey, age 13, gave it **, saying that is was an "okay children's movie."
The film is playing in limited release now in the United States. In the Silicon Valley, it is showing at the AMC theaters and the Century theaters.
San Francisco Examiner
Publication date: 08/23/2002
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars]
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano; directed by Blair Treu; written by Jessica Barondes. Rated PG for thematic elements. 'Secrets' a keeper
BY DONNA DOMINO
Special to The Examiner
Movies designated with the saccharine "family film" label often have the unfortunate effect of leaving adults yawning and adolescents barfing. They walk a tight rope of trying to entertain without vulgarity or violence -- the two main staples of most Hollywood fare. Good ones are usually cartoons, like "Shrek," and standout dramas such as "October Sky" are rarities.
So you've got to give the makers of "Little Secrets" credit -- appealing to an overstimulated youth culture inundated by images of the sex and mayhem.
To a large degree, "Little Secrets" succeeds in a valiant effort to portray a teens struggling with the inevitable pitfalls along the bumpy road to adulthood.
The film's theme -- the burden and damage that come from keeping secrets -- is handled with insight and charm. It's also a thorny problem that all of us, young and old alike, have wrestled with at one time or another.
Evan Rachel Wood (of TV's "Once and Again") is Emily, a "secret keeper" who charges the neighborhood kids 50 cents on Wednesday afternoons to hear their deepest, darkest secrets, kind of like an entrepreneurial mother confessor. One tyke's digging his way to China, another steals $20 from his father's wallet to buy him a present, another keeps a hidden kitten.
Wood, only 15, displays remarkable poise for such a young actress and carries the film's central role.
Portraying an aspiring violinist, she is convincing in several challenging scenes playing sophisticated pieces; it's also essential to the movie's premise and establishing Emily's bookish character. Often it's painfully obvious when actors can't really play, and mimicking a difficult instrument like the violin sometimes resembles frantic sawing.
Michael Angarano plays Philip, a younger boy who moves in next door and instantly develops a crush on Emily. With her flaxen long, blond hair, lithe body and thoughtful blue eyes, Wood is every adolescent boy's dream girl.
All the children are cute and appealing, but Angarano steals every scene as the smart-alecky goofball Philip, or Fill-It-Up, as Emily playfully calls him. His antics and effervescent agility capture preteen boys' rambunctiousness, as well as his budding, awkward awareness of the opposite sex. He also gets some of the best lines, like when he incredulously asks an angelic 9-year-old girl, "Are you high?"
Philip's older brother, David, the "babe in the 'hood" who Emily takes a fancy to, is played by the bland but pleasant David Gallagher. As often happens in life, if you've got looks, you don't need personality.
Vivica Fox is effective as Emily's music teacher, someone with secrets of her own who tries to cultivate Emily's prodigious talent while helping her deal with teenage angst.
Emily, an only child, is having trouble accepting her mom's unexpected pregnancy and the shift of her parent's attention away from their prodigy. Of course, Emily has her own secret that she zealously guards: she's adopted.
Her test of character comes when an accidental fall prevents her from making an all-important audition for the city's orchestra. Philip, the hero, rescues the dire situation by showing the judges a video he lovingly made of Emily playing a Mendelssohn concerto.
As a result, Emily comes to terms with her painful secret -- her adoption -- as do all the kids. And some revelations are sweetly endearing; the best comes when the erudite little boy who's digging to China unearths a dinosaur's skeleton.
The moral, delivered in a slightly heavy-handed way, it that the sooner we all own up to our secrets, the better. But, like most life lessons, as most adults have learned, it's easier said than done. Although this film, destined to end up on Nickelodeon, is aimed at teens and twenty-somethings hooked on nonstop action -- my bet is it will appeal more to their parents.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Teenagers trust a boy (Michael Angarano) to keep their secrets.
'Little Secrets' a cute little outing
By David Elliott
Union-Tribune Movie Critic
August 22, 2002
"Little Secrets" opens with a father and daughter merrily singing lyrics from "The Sound of Music," moves on to speedup camera shots (ha-ha) and is set in the cheeriest of perfect suburbs.
The Critic Says
Emily, 14, is played by adorable, scrub-cleaned Evan Rachel Wood, who primly keeps the tiny secrets of neighborhood kids in paper bags (this feels very Our Gang serial, circa 1930). Her secret is that she's adopted and ashamed about it, yet her good looks and musical talent are compensation; it's hard to accept that preteen Philip (cute Michael Angarano) warms up to her by learning the piano, beginning with -- a Mozart sonata!
Writer and director Blair Treu, with a Disney background, has everyone acting on cue like TV commercial darlings. The kids are appealing, the music is fine. It somewhat breaks the tone when Emily admits, "Mom is very anal," but then Emily is anal, and so -- nicely -- is the movie.
Main movies guide
Verdict: A little clunky, but it means well.
Details: Starring Evan Rachel Wood and Vivica A. Fox. Directed by Blair Treu.
Rated PG for a mildly frightening scene. At metro theaters. One hour, 47 minutes.
Review: It's the dump days of summer, the tail-end of the season, when Hollywood throws whatever it has sitting around onto the theater screen to see what sticks.
"Little Secrets" sticks pretty well, for what it is -- a squeaky-clean coming-of-age tale with a simple story, a competent cast of mostly unknowns (aside from VivecaVivica A. Fox) and a good message. Actually, it's a wonder it made it into theaters at all given this summer's predilection for over-hyped and under-thought kid movies like "Scooby-Doo" or the "Spy Kids" sequel.
And know what makes "Little Secrets" stand out even more? There's not a fast-food tie-in in sight. Not even the possibility of one. Perhaps no one could figure out how to make violin-shaped burgers.
Set in a well-groomed upper-middle-class neighborhood that looks like it was imported from Atlanta (actually, it's Salt Lake City), "Little Secrets" wants us to know that keeping a secret can sometimes be a good thing, but it can be a bad thing, too. Fourteen-year-old Emily (pretty and talented Evan Rachel Wood, who, coincidentally, plays Al Pacino's daughter in "Simone," also opening today) is a gifted violinist, about to audition for a major youth orchestra. She should be concentrating on practicing for her violin teacher (Fox), but she's distracted by her mom's pregnancy. A cooing -- screaming? -- infant isn't Emily's idea of familial bliss.
Music is her calling, but Emily also has a thriving business called Secret Keeper. Working from a wooden booth that looks a lot like Lucy's famed 5-cents therapy/lemonade stand in "Peanuts," she dispenses advice and listens to confessions from the neighborhood kids. She's a big-sister problem solver who knows what to do about your dad's broken chess piece or the kitten you've smuggled into your bedroom even though your parents won't allow you to have one.
Well, she thinks she does, though, by the movie's end, some of her ideas have backfired. What we don't know is that Emily has a secret of her own, as do her parents and her teacher.
"Little Secrets" tosses around several public service announcement-style messages: don't drink and drive, especially if you're 15; don't decide a baby is necessarily a threat; don't break things or adopt things without telling your parents.
It also has that old-fashioned Disney-glaze that used to be on live-action family films starring Kurt Russell or the Olsen twins. There's nothing very real going on, from Emily's dubbed violin playing to her mother's close-your-eyes-and-count-to-10 birthing scene in which she pops out a baby in about a minute and a half. But the movie's feelings are real -- whether they're a crush Emily's neighbor has on her, or the crush Emily has on her neighbor's older brother, or betraying a friend, or being a pain in the butt to your folks. Plus, you believe that Wood's Emily really does love music, even if she never moves her fingers along the violin strings.
Watching "Little Secrets" is like drinking a glass of milk after swearing off Sprite and vodka. It doesn't have much bite, but it's refreshing in its own way, and it's certainly good for you.
-- Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: Friday, August 23, 2002
Don't keep this a 'Secret'
By Evan Henerson
*** [3 out of 4 stars]
In a nutshell: Gentle coming-of-age film with talented young actors. The after-school special genre is alive and flourishing in "Little Secrets," a harmless and sporadically engaging coming-of-age flick about a 15-year-old violinist, her circle of friends and the secrets they can and can't keep.
That "Little Secrets" landed a PG rating instead of a G is kind of astounding. Director Blair Treu wears his "family film" mantra like a Legion of Honor cross, boasting via his script notes that his film won an award of excellence at the Heartland Film Festival. Objectionable content? Thematic thorniness? Pshaw! The edgiest moment is the utterance of the phrase "drunk driver." "Little Secrets" may well be the first film in motion picture history in which a woman gives birth while wearing jeans.
Not that there's anything wrong with gentleness. Anchored by a couple of young actors who are as believable as they are cuddly, "Secrets" largely overcomes the gooeyness of Jessica Barondes' script. And 14-year-old Evan Rachel Wood -- who also stars in the just released "Simone" -- should find her mug on teen-zines faster than you can say heart-covered stationary. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.
Wood plays Emily, a popular but slightly eccentric 15-year-old who lives for her music. While her cronies are at summer camp, Emily saws away at her fiddle in preparation for an upcoming youth symphony audition. As a side business, she operates a "secrets-keeping" booth, acting as a kind of confessor to the neighborhood kids, safely storing their broken objects and dispensing advice.
One moppet brought home a cat without parental permission; another is conducting a clandestine Internet impersonation scam with a boy, pretending to be her older sister; another steals from his father's wallet.
At home, Emily is feeling a bit brushed aside what with her over-40 parents (Jan Broberg Felt and Rick Macy) expecting a baby. Emily strikes up a friendship with a new neighbor, Philip (Michael Angarano), a bright but lonely 12-year-old whose cute older brother, David ("7th Heaven's" David Gallagher), is conveniently off at tennis camp.
As it happens, David has a secret. So do Philip, Emily's parents, and her violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox). Come to think of it, everybody in this movie is hiding something, with Emily carrying around the biggest of all -- a double whammy in fact. The movie's point, as one character rather heavy-handedly points out, is that the keeping of secrets -- big or little -- can tear people apart, just as spilling your guts can bring about unity.
No, this isn't profound stuff, but it's safe and heart-warming enough that the 15-and-younger set should love it while their parents won't be bored. Keep an eye on Angarano (who plays Jack's son on the TV sitcom "Will & Grace"), a young man who looks like he may have gifts beyond heart-throbbery.
Wood, meanwhile, is a winning girl-next-door who accomplishes what most ladies her age -- secret-bearers or otherwise -- probably can't: She can carry a movie.
'Little Secrets' is wholesome family fare
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
**1/2 [2 1/2 out of 4 stars]
With Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano, David Gallagher, Vivica A. Fox, Jan Beroberg Felt, Rick Macy. Directed by Blair Treu, from a screenplay by Jessica Barondes. 107 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements. Several theaters.
Movie credits can tell you the darnedest things. Watch closely at the end of the pleasant but generic family film "Little Secrets," and you'll spot the name of crew member Mike Lookinland ("1st Asst. 'A' Camera"). Some of us know Lookinland better as youngest son Bobby on "The Brady Bunch," and it's nice to see that his behind-the-camera career is alive and well.
"Little Secrets," in fact, bears many similarities to "The Brady Bunch," so Lookinland's presence is apt -- the movie's sweet-natured, squeaky clean and set in a suburban wonderland so flawlessly bland that it looks like no real person could live there.
Indeed, the film might have been better suited to an afterschool special -- there's no compelling reason why this story needs the big screen. (There's a bit of flashy, caffeinated cinematography at the beginning, but it's quickly abandoned.)
Nonetheless, preteen girls (and their parents) are likely to find much to enjoy in the story of 14-year-old Emily (Evan Rachel Wood), a self-styled keeper of other children's confidences who learns that some secrets are best shared.
Wood, who seems to be Hollywood's angelic-teen-of-the-minute (she plays Al Pacino's daughter in "Simone," also opening today), plays Emily as an almost surreally poised kid. She looks like a ballerina, plays the violin like a prodigy and dispenses advice to neighborhood children like a bubble-gum Dear Abby.
Unlike many made-for-kids movies, though, "Little Secrets" is no fantasy, despite its polished surface: It finds its drama firmly in the kinds of problems real kids deal with every day. What do you do when you're afraid to tell your friends something about yourself? What if someone tells you something that you don't want to know? And if your parents have another baby, will they still love you as much?
Screenwriter Jessica Barondes, a veteran of numerous "Unicorn Club" and "Sweet Valley Twins" books, clearly knows her demographic; the movie is populated with numerous children in the 8-to-12 range, each of whom gets a moment to shine.
I'd have liked to see, for example, a little more about the kid whose secret is that she's been hiding kittens in her room. (How'd she do it? Extra-deluxe-deodorizing kitty litter?)
The story stumbles, late in the film when it suddenly encompasses both melodrama (something awful happens at the 75-minute mark, in case you want to time a bathroom break) and teen love story. "Little Secrets" works best as a simple story of childhood worries, unencumbered by the baggage of other genres.
But the movie's chipper charms, and its steadfast determination to present an alternative to overly merchandised multiplex fare (there's nary a pop song or product placement here), ultimately win out.
The Bradys would approve -- and might even learn something.
In writer Jessica Barondes and director Blair Irev's new comedy, young, congenitally tightlipped Emily (Evan Rachael Wood) has a brisk business selling her silence in a neighborhood full of destructive, guilt-ridden kids who line up in droves to give her quarters in exchange for the opportunity to bare their dirty little souls. Much like Lucy from the "Peanuts" gang, Emily -- a preternaturally old child who drinks high tea and delights in self-discipline -- works out of a makeshift wooden stand. (One can almost see her future as a spinster librarian.) However, when the weight of so many secrets starts to drag her spirits down and threatens to disrupt her violin lessons, Emily is compelled to re-examine her own lofty code of confessor-client privilege. Little Secrets' peculiar message -- that integrity isn't always the best policy -- certainly sets it apart from other children's films, and could result in some interesting debates at the family dinner table. However, despite its extraordinary theme, the film wades again and again into the kind of ordinary territory befitting its muted if glossy made-for-TV look and its tinkling, whimsically modern piano score. In a conclusion made of equal parts tears and saccharine, the wise 14-year-old manages, all in the same breath, to denounce keeping secrets, self-pity and drunk driving. (Amy Nicholson)
Editor: Jackie Potts
Teen pinups Michael Angarano and David Gallagher star in this smart family film about a gotta-tell-it secret.
Editorial Rating: 8 [out of 10]
Acting: 8 [out of 10]
Plot: 8 [out of 10]
Soundtrack and Visuals: 8 [out of 10]
Entertainment Value: 8 [out of 10]
A budding classical violinist in a boy-band-crazy world, 14-year-old Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) can't wait to audition for the junior symphony. But when a cute pair of brothers ("Will & Grace"'s Michael Angarano and "7th Heaven"'s David Gallagher) moves in next door, she learns some juicy info that she's hard-pressed not to share. Should she break her oath as the neighborhood "secret-keeper" for a cute boy?
Those who say there are no intelligent PG movies out there ought to hightail it to "Little Secrets"--a smart, witty and thoroughly modern yarn about a group of preteens growing up in an idyllic, tree-lined borough. It perfectly captures the seemingly life-or-death urgency of should-I-or-shouldn't-I and does-he-like-me dilemmas that kids routinely face. The mostly 10-and-under thespians are a delightfully funny bunch without the staged precociousness so often found in family fare.
Holds interest: yes
Good for kids: yes
Good for dates: no
Wait to rent it: no
Christian Science Monitor
from the August 23, 2002 edition
Pssst: a 'Little Secret' worth telling to families
By David Sterritt
** [2 stars out of 4]
This summer is stuffed with PG-13 movies. That would be a relief from the usual glut of R-rated films if so many of the PG-13 items wouldn't have gotten an R themselves not long ago -- and might today, if they weren't released by powerful Hollywood studios good at cozying up to the ratings board.
In this atmosphere, it's nice to have more G and PG pictures also arriving than in previous years. "Little Secrets" is a genuine PG, gentle and wholesome almost all the way through. It's not a great movie, but it should attract family audiences.
The heroine is Emily, an enterprising preteen who enjoys keeping busy. One of her activities is a Secret Keeper booth in her yard, where she draws long lines of neighborhood kids eager to confide some secret they have -- for a small fee -- safe in the knowledge that she won't tell a soul.
She's also a violinist who loves classical music. Her goal is to join the junior division of the local symphony, and her teacher assures her she has enough talent, if only she works hard enough. That's no problem for this disciplined youngster.
Ironically, though, Emily has a secret herself -- she's an adopted child.
Her parents have assumed she'll tell other people about this on her own schedule, but she's kept it bottled up because of deep-down insecurities she can't shake.
Another complication is looming for her, too: newfound affection for two brothers who've moved into the neighborhood, one of whom seems to be stealing her heart. Will this distract Emily from practicing her scales and arpeggios? And will her mother's unexpected middle-aged pregnancy increase her anxieties about her place in the family?
"Little Secrets" would be more believable if it weren't quite so trim and tidy. It has a sitcommy look, etching all its incidents and characters in well-scrubbed images as carefully manicured as the lawns in Emily's neat suburban neighborhood.
But this isn't the kind of movie you go to for hard-edged realism, and if a touch of summertime sweetness is what you're after, you'll have an enjoyable time.
Credit goes to director Blair Treu, a graduate of the Disney studio, and to the energetic cast, especially Evan Rachel Wood as Emily and Vivica A. Fox as her music teacher.
This picture is a secret family-oriented viewers should spread around.
- Rated PG; contains mild violence and references to drinking.
Posted on Fri, Aug. 23, 2002
'Little Secrets' an insult to kids' intelligence
This simplistic, syrupy blather would be more at home on television
The Charlotte Observer
I suspect the makers of "Little Secrets" never met a child before the shoot, though most of the actors are under 18, and the presumed audience -- if there were any audience for such saccharine drivel -- falls into that age group.
It's a fable that descends rapidly into nonsense, a long lie in which the moral theme can be reduced to "lying is bad." Why it's being released theatrically is a mystery, since it has "cable TV premiere" written all over it.)
Raleigh actress Evan Rachel Wood plays 14-year-old Emily, a brilliantly talented classical violinist who has become a sort of counselor and repository of secrets for neighborhood kids.
Younger Philip (Michael Angarano) has a crush on her, but she has eyes for his hunky brother (David Gallagher). Meanwhile, Emily's violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox) wants her to focus on an upcoming audition for the youth symphony in -- well, the movie doesn't say. It's so generic that it doesn't ever mention a locale. (It was shot in Salt Lake City.)
"Little Secrets" takes place in the kind of world where a child can have multiple cats in her bedroom without parents noticing, another can dig an immense hole in his yard without arousing attention, and a third can dress up like a 9-year-old hooker without drawing a stare from anybody.
Emily plays flawlessly, handling Mendelssohn's concerto solos without missing a note. Yet her parents don't find her a first-class teacher, and she leaves her expensive violin on the roof of the house when she's not using it.
Picking holes in this lump of cheese is a waste of energy, though more fun than actually watching it. Let's leave things at this: Angarano (the younger version of the protagonist in "Almost Famous") and Wood show promise and deserve better things. In Wood's case, lunch would be one of them: She's breadstick-thin, and her anorexic look inadvertently lends weight (so to speak) to the myth of the starving artist.
By Roger Moore, Sentinel Staff Writer
** [2 out of 5 stars]
Here's an After School Special that the networks missed. Actually, since the networks no longer televise those, maybe Nickelodeon will be picking up Little Secrets, a good-hearted but extremely modest children's film about ambition, friendship and the little lies kids tell to avoid being yelled at.
Fourteen-year-old Emily is fond of classical music, sleeveless turtlenecks and secrets. She runs a "secrets kept" stand behind her house, which all the younger kids in her idealized neighborhood visit. They tell her their secrets; things they've broken, kittens they've brought home, holes to China they're digging, pranks they shouldn't have pulled. She stores the broken items, gives advice and tucks away the secret "forever," promising never to tell.
Isn't that precious?
Emily, nicely played by Evan Rachel Wood, has a secret of her own. And it has nothing to do with her ambition to play violin in a symphony orchestra or her nascent crush on the punky-hunky new blond boy next door (David Gallagher). Duringthe waning weeks of summer, we figure out her secret and one or two that David has too.
Blair Treu, working from a Jessica Barnondes script, underwhelms this featherweight story but still manages to give it some pleasant grace notes. Emily studies the TV schedule, finds classical music concert telecasts that are coming up, rehearses, dresses up and plays along with the orchestras. That's not a problem, so long as Dad isn't watching a Braves game. When he does, she has to wander the neighborhood, in evening wear, with a violin and a music stand, trying to find a neighbor who will let her watch and play along.
She inspires David's younger brother to take up the piano, just so he'll have the chance to play a duet with her someday. She exchanges video letters with her pals away at camp and gripes about the impending birth of a sibling, whom she has already named "Swamp Thing," in her mom's womb.
The music is the best part of this film. Wood does a decent enough job faking her way through a little Brahms and Mendelssohn, which are movingly applied to the film, here and there. Vivica A. Fox is well-cast as her violin teacher.
And the little homilies about how secrets are a burden on young and old, how lies and drunken driving have consequences that can last a lifetime, are decent lessons to teach children.
But the whole is a bit on the wan side, not a lot of entertainment value, a nice moment here and there, but nothing big or unexpected or even fun. The secrets, like the film about them, are pretty bland, even for a children's movie.
Roger Moore can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5369.
The Village Voice
by Leslie Camhi
August 21 - 27, 2002
Oppressive, if familiar, family values reign in the Middle America of Little Secrets (Samuel Goldwyn, opens August 23). Blair Treu's adolescent drama stars teen dream Evan Rachel Wood as Emily, a 14-year-old who turns down summer with friends at camp to practice the violin for her audition with the local symphony. In the meantime she opens a stand where, for 50 cents, she offers to keep the secrets of the little kids in her suburban neighborhood, and puts up with her mother (Vivica A. Fox), who is fortysomething and pregnant. Many more things happen in this Disneyesque confection; most are as predictable as the romance that blossoms with the cute boy who moves in next door. Treu scores his finest points off the little kids' unfailing cuteness, but the film's broad performances and heavy-handed moralizing strike a note of condescension sure to be heard by the alienated teenager within us all.
August 23, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
[3 out of 4 "stars"]
Drama. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano, David Gallagher and Vivica A. Fox. Directed by Blair Treu. Written by Jessica Barondes. (PG. 107 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)
In "Little Secrets," a smart, teenage violinist named Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) has the talent and discipline to be a world-class musician. Her life seems perfect. Surrounded by caring parents, she lives in a bucolic suburb, has many friends and -- in her spare time, as a way of offering a service she never had as a kid -- runs a 50-cent booth where neighborhood children can come and unburden themselves of secrets.
When a family moves next door and Emily learns the eldest son (David Gallagher) was involved in a drunken-driving accident, she takes an extreme view of him, even though they initially liked each other. At the end of "Little Secrets," we learn why Emily was so upset and why keeping a secret can exact a toll on everyone involved.
There's no denying that director Blair Treu has made a touching film that will make audiences smile and cry at young characters who are learning about love and confession. This movie is ideal for families who want to explore the meaning of secrets and friendship, and for anyone interested in a sweet story of a violinist determined to make her youth orchestra.
The plot twists in "Little Secrets" sustain the movie when it gets a bit too schmaltzy. This excess of cuteness and sentimentality won't be a flaw to moviegoers in the mood for it.
-- Jonathan Curiel
LITTLE SECRETS / *** (PG)
August 23, 2002
BY ROGER EBERT
The biggest surprise in "Little Secrets" is that Ozzie and Harriet don't live next door. The movie takes place in an improbably perfect suburban neighborhood where all the kids wear cute sportswear and have the kinds of harmless problems that seem to exist only so that they can be harmless problems. Then of course there are some Big Problems which are rendered harmless, too. This is a very reassuring film.
The heroine of the movie, Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) is a budding young violinist who as a sideline runs a Little Secrets stand in her back yard, where kids can tell her their secrets at 50 cents apiece. The secrets are then written on scraps of paper and locked in a chest.
The theological and psychological origins of her practice would be fascinating to research. The neighborhood kids sure take it seriously. When she's a few minutes late in opening her stand, there's a line of impatient kids clamoring to unburden themselves. The 50-cent price tag doesn't discourage them; these are not kids who remember the days when a quarter used to buy something.
But what kinds of kids are they, exactly? Consider Philip and David. Philip tells David, "Her name is Emily. Like Emily ..." "... Dickinson?" says David. "And Emily Bronte," says Philip. Heartened as I am to know that the grade school kids in this movie are on first-name terms with these authors, I am nevertheless doubtful that Dickinson and Bronte will ring many bells in the audience.
Vivica A. Fox is the only widely known star in the film, playing a violin teacher who is wise and philosophical. Much suspense centers around Emily's audition for the local symphony orchestra (every suburb should have one). The problems of the kids range from a girl who hides kittens in her room to a boy who is digging a hole to China. Larger issues, including adoption, are eventually introduced.
I am rating this movie at three stars because it contains absolutely nothing to object to. That in itself may be objectionable, but you will have to decide for yourself. The film is upbeat, wholesome, chirpy, positive, sunny, cheerful, optimistic and squeaky-clean. It bears so little resemblance to the more complicated worlds of many members of its target audience (girls 4 to 11) that it may work as pure escapism. That it has been rated not G but PG (for "thematic elements") is another of the arcane mysteries created by the flywheels of the MPAA. There is not a parent on earth who would believe this film requires "parental guidance."
By Scott Foundas
22 August 2002
Abstract: "Little Secrets" is one of those movies, like last year's "Kids World" and "Radio Flyer," that impose a hackneyed grownup psychoanalytical point of view on their youthful protagonists. What you end up with are a bunch of kids acting not like kids, but how adults who've lost all sense of what it was like to be a kid think kids behave.
The full text of this review, including cast, credits, rating, running time, and (for many reviews) photos, video trailers, opening date and box office history, is available only to subscribers.
New York Times
MOVIE REVIEW | 'LITTLE SECRETS'
Dreams of the Symphony, With a Secret in Tow
By DAVE KEHR
Evan Rachel Wood, who starred in the television series "Once and Again" and can currently be seen in "Simone," has the straight blond hair and disaffected look of a Conde Nast intern, although her character in "Little Secrets" is only 14 and prefers studying the violin to club-hopping.
In "Little Secrets," which opens nationally today, Ms. Wood incarnates the ideal Middle-American teenager. When her best friends run off to summer camp, Ms. Wood's character, Emily, stays behind to saw away at Mozart, hoping to become good enough to win an audition for a place in the local symphony orchestra.
But Emily also has a sideline. Operating as the neighborhood shrink for 50 cents a session (prices have gone up since Lucy was in practice in "Peanuts"), she offers to hear the confessions of the neighborhood kids, promising to preserve their secrets, though broken crockery is about as serious as it gets.
Emily, however, has a somewhat larger secret of her own. Her mother is expecting a baby, which will be her first biological child because, as it turns out, Emily was adopted. Emily has chosen not to tell anyone of her origins, but it's a secret she can't keep forever. The time will come, prompted by the two cute teenage boys who have moved in next door, when all secrets must be revealed.
Directed by Blair Treu, whose credits include the Disney made-for-television movie "Phantom of the Megaplex," "Little Secrets" is a sunny, pleasant, squeaky-clean family film in which nothing surprising happens, and that is the point. Ms. Wood has a poise and wistfulness beyond her years, and she seems likely to follow the path of the child star Diane Lane into more nuanced adult roles.
"Little Secrets" is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested), seemingly because there are hints of physical attraction between the teenage characters.
Directed by Blair Treu
PG, 100 minutes
Movie review, 'Little Secrets'
By Loren King
There's nothing wrong with uplifting movies about decent folks behaving decently. They just don't make for interesting drama. Most of the secrets in "Little Secrets," a fluffy family film, wouldn't be out of place in a Bible study group, and even those with dark potential are given a gooey center.
The film's nondescript suburb, which features too-green lawns and a spotless public-transportation system, is populated by wholesome kids (nearly all white and all well-off) getting into "Leave it to Beaver"-style debacles -- an online ruse, a broken teacup, stealing cash from Dad's wallet in order to buy him a present -- and adults who preside over their families with bemused grins, as if unaware of the fantasy world they're living in.
At the heart of the action is the film's "secret keeper," impossibly precocious adolescent Emily (lovely Evan Rachel Wood, best known for playing Jessie on TV's "Once and Again"). Emily looks and talks more like she's on the cusp of adulthood rather than the pal of 12-year-olds. She's also a classical violinist who skips summer camp in order to try out for the symphony. Emily dispenses advice to the other kids in the neighborhood, going behind a beaded curtain like she's part gypsy, part confessor. She keeps their secrets for a small fee, even hiding accidentally broken bud vases and wristwatches in neatly labeled brown bags, which she stores in a wooden chest.
Even when conflict blessedly rears its head, such as when Emily's young friend Philip (a likable performance by Michael Angarano of TV's "Will and Grace") spills the beans about one of Emily's secrets in a fit of jealousy over Emily's obvious attraction to Philip's older brother, or when Emily reveals that she's harboring a secret about her own birth, there's always a warm and fuzzy resolution.
Director Blair Treu, whose credits include 18 episodes of TV's "Chicken Soup for the Soul," tries to up the ante in the middle of the movie with a near-tragedy, but by this point the film has established itself as innocuous and its characters as noble, so there is little surprise and even less at stake.
"You can't keep secrets about yourself and lead a true life," advises Emily's music teacher, (Vivica A. Fox). This wise sentiment is typical of the film's motives. One can hardly argue with the desire to make a wholesome movie for families that extols honesty and decency, but it all comes too easily, too superficially.
Moral lessons, after all, usually come out of more than just a confession about some busted bric-a-brac.
2 stars (out of 4)
Directed by Blair Treu; written by Jessica Barondes; photographed by Brian Sullivan; edited by Jerry Stayner; music by Sam Cardon; production design by Gary Griffin Constable; produced by Blair Treu, Don Schain. An IDP release; opens Friday, Aug. 23. Running time: 1:47. MPAA rating: PG (thematic elements).
"There are a lot of movies out there made for fourteen-year-old boys, a ton of movies made for six-year-old kids, this movie is made for ten-year-old girls and for what it is, I really like it."
-- Richard Roeper, EBERT & ROEPER
The Hollywood Reporter
Aug. 23, 2002
By Frank Scheck
NEW YORK -- While family films of any sort are to be encouraged in this day and age, it's unfortunate that the current crop seems to veer between vulgarized big-screen versions of television cartoons and low-budget efforts that seem far better suited to the Hallmark Channel. "Little Secrets," a sweet, innocuous and utterly bland family drama, is a prime example of the latter, and its theatrical release should receive some attention only because of the performance by Evan Rachel Wood in the starring role. This talented young actress also appears in the Al Pacino starrer "Simone," also opening today.
Wood, so impressive in the recently canceled ABC series "Once and Again," is a luminous screen presence. Unfortunately, both she and the filmmakers here seem acutely aware of it, with lengthy and intense close-ups lavished on her at every opportunity. She plays Emily, a violin whiz who sacrifices the pleasures of summer camp in order to stay home and practice for an upcoming competition.
Emily also considers herself good at keeping secrets so, aping Lucy in the "Peanuts" comics, she opens up a booth in the back yard where the neighboring children can come and confess their transgressions. At first the practice is both fun and profitable, but Emily soon finds that keeping secrets is not as easy as she thought. Complicating matters even further is her burgeoning attraction to the cute older brother of a boy who has moved in next door.
A lot of things happen during the course of the film, but the intricate plot developments are conveyed in such perfunctory and undramatic fashion that maintaining interest is a difficult chore. The cast of young performers has been directed to perform in as cutesy a fashion as possible, and the adults -- with the exception of the always lively Vivica A. Fox as a neighbor with troubles of her own -- aren't much better.
Yes, the film delivers wholesome messages about the importance of friendship, family, honesty, etc. But, as demonstrated here, good intentions don't necessarily make for compelling storytelling.