Despite the popularity of her long-running book series, Nancy Drew has gotten very little screen time. She's been in video games, TV movies (as recently as 2002), and even had a series: 1977's The Nancy Drew Mysteries on ABC. But she hasn't sleuthed on the big screen since the 1930s.
However, fans waiting for a uniquely Nancy Drew film may still be waiting. This film's Nancy is a generic teen girl sleuth who happens to be called "Nancy Drew." Sure, there are nice Nancy Drew touches—she's got her flashlight, the blue roadster from her early books, a housekeeper named Hannah Gruen, and a home address in River Heights—but those details can almost feel like they're written into some Nickelodeon-like teen detective script. In fact, with new character names, this just as easily could have been called Veronica Mars: The Early Years.
But there are also some very-Nancy elements. For instance, she's always more than happy to impart random information to those around her (like police code, medical procedures, etc.). She also shows enthusiastic interest in various hobbies like art and music, a trait that leads to a laugh-out-loud bit with her painting.
Really, it's two main factors that make Nancy feel like she's here in name-only. First, she's modernized. The film puts her in the present (to be more accessible to kids of course) but makes her some sort of 1950s-holdout. This often-uneven tone is very much like a cross between the tongue-in-cheek parody of The Brady Bunch Movie and the live cartoon that was Scooby-Doo. Second, Nancy's removed from her natural setting—as many of the later books also did. However, outside of River Heights, the film's character becomes another teen who wants to solve mysteries.
Nancy leaves River Heights with her dad (Tate Donovan) on an extended business trip in Los Angeles. Nancy's dad let her choose their L.A. rental property (doesn't every parent?) and she purposely selected the mansion of a dead movie star wrapped in mystery. With new friend Corky (Josh Flitter) and old flame Ned (Max Thieriot), Nancy goes to work. Who killed Dehlia Draycott? Why did she disappear for months before her death? And who's trying to stop Nancy from uncovering the truth?
The mystery itself is interesting—with one really clever surprise. But overall the movie is just average, a standard kid's tale with little to distinguish it. It's fine, but it doesn't stand out. The film lacks spark or uniqueness and often feels flat. The only shining moments come from Nancy's sidekick Corky, a side gag with Nancy trying to be a "normal teen," and an awkward-but-cute moment between Ned and Nancy.
While many viewers may see Nancy Drew and forget it in the parking lot, kids will have a fair-share of fun. After all, often moves fast, Nancy takes on some fun Goonies-for-girls adventure, and young Josh Flitter's hammy performance of Corky adds several laugh-out-loud moments. (I'd watch a whole movie about Corky, to tell the truth.) Besides, you really can't not like the sweet Emma Roberts. In addition, the film is mostly clean and has good—but simple—self-esteem messages about being yourself and seeking justice. The film puts a high value on a teen girl for her brain and personality—not her looks.
That said, there are a few messages parents may want to be conscious of. Like many recent movies aged at this age-demographic, kids are empowered at the expense of adults. Almost every adult is either dippy or scary. Nancy's dad is caring and present, but he's a bit aloof. At one point, he discovers Nancy in their new attic—in the middle of the night—with a strange older man. He never questions the situation. In addition, Dad is often bested by his daughter's intelligence. When he inquires about her whereabouts, she cleverly confuses him until he quits asking her what she's up to—even though it's clear she's sleuthing, something he told her to quit.
This sets up a curious element to Nancy Drew. Dad tells Nancy in the beginning not sleuth in L.A.—because it's a different world than River Heights. And she does try to obey. But soon, the Draycott mystery is just too alluring. And so, the whole movie is Nancy going behind her dad's back to solve the mystery.
While the results of her subversion are admirable and does real good for others, you have to question whether the ends justify the means. Is it OK for her to disobey if it's helping others? Especially when 1) Nancy isn't really punished or repentant for her disobeying and 2) she often preaches about needing to do things the "right way." In fact, at one point Ned even says, "Nancy, you're always saying the ends don't justify the means." But the plot contradicts that.
Even though this is just an average return to the silver screen for the teen sleuth, I hope it won't be another 70-plus years until we see Nancy again. It'd be nice to see Emma Roberts take another spin in the old roadster, as long as she stays in River Heights this time—and reunites with Corky.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Nancy goes behind her dad's back to solve the mystery. Is it okay for her to disobey if it's helping others? Does the results of her sleuthing make it okay that she broke rules? Have you misbehaved in order to do what you through was right? Do you still feel it was the right thing to do?
- The girls at Nancy's school don't feel she fits in and give her a hard time. Do you think Nancy cares about what they think? What does she do to make you think that? How can someone learn to just be himself or herself—and not care what others think is "in"?
- Why do the girls who pick on Nancy change their opinion of her? What do they see in her that makes them like her?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Rated PG for mild violence, thematic elements and brief language. Nancy and her friends get into some pretty intense, perilous situations that will be scary to younger children. There's gunplay, a bomb and car chases. Offensive language is limited to "hell." There's talk about children born out of wedlock, a scene in which Nancy administers a tracheotomy (the actual procedure is off screen), and a wild party scene.
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