Tuesday, March 19, 2019


If a movie is released and no one notices was it even there? To take a detour for a moment: Too often the broad popular online film discourse is just film nerds talking to each other about film nerd movies. Who needs their umpteenth Marvel ranking or trailer analysis or an ending “finally EXPLAINED!!”? (Whatever that means.) They make the old “all thumbs” Film Comment argument about At the Movies look quaint, considering the new normal of hyperbolically aggregated press releases and bubbly ahistorical popcorn chatter makes At the Movies look like Film Comment in comparison. All this is just to say hardly anyone in film circles will tell you Warner Brothers' latest attempt to do something with the rights to Nancy Drew happened at all, or even that it's not bad for what it is: slight, cute, pleasant, girl power sleuthing. The exceedingly mild and unassuming Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase — so unassuming the studio itself barely seems to have noticed it turned up last weekend — is a modern reworking of Carolyn Keene’s long-running, occasionally-updated Depression-era teen detective books. Now that mostly means adding cell phones. This new version is a brightly lit, simply staged little movie following Nancy and her father moving from Chicago to a small town where her big city social justice spirit can do some good, and eventually leads to her exposing a Scooby Doo-level trick being played on a sweet old lady (Linda Lavin). Nancy is introduced skateboarding down Main Street to a bubblegum pop song, before getting asked by a new friend for help getting back at a bully. Revenge? No, “restorative justice,” Nancy says with giddy righteousness only a relatively carefree 16-year-old could muster. She's charming. A sweet rule-breaker in pursuit of truth and justice, it’d be hard not to hope she’ll succeed at whatever she puts her mind to, and even harder to think she won’t. She’s played by Sophia Lillis (the best part of the boring It movie lots liked a couple years ago) as a totally normal clever teen, using her smarts and her likable low-key charm to make friends and disentangle small-town conspiracies. Director Katt Shea (The Rage: Carrie 2) and screenwriters Nina Fiore and John Herrera (The Handmaid’s Tale) take a break from their usual heavier adult-oriented genre fare for a simple, clean-cut, clear-minded, easy narrative. As Nancy is drawn into solving the old lady’s plight, it is resolved at just the right level of complexity and speed for its intended audience — its the sort of thing you’d hope would be seen by elementary aged kids and their grandmas. There’s just enough soft-spoken kid-friendly personality to make the characters almost lifelike. And the movie is just engaging and chipper enough to fit comfortably alongside its closest competitors: the better Disney Channel Original Movies. It does basically what it says on the tin, whether anyone noticed or not. I'd rather have a sequel to this than Branagh's Poirot.

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