2007Director: Andrew Fleming
Cast: Josh Flitter, Emma Roberts, Max Thierot
here is a moment early on in Nancy Drew where Nancy says something along the lines of “Hasn’t anyone in Los Angeles heard of courtesy? I value politeness.” And do you know what she has just done? She’s barged her way onto a movie set where she doesn’t belong and interrupted the middle of a shot by yapping her damn fool head off, smarty-pantsing about historical inaccuracies in the script. A polite person would at least have waited until “cut” was called, and of course, a polite person is only on the set and in the shot if they’re actually supposed to be in the movie in the first place. Rude, rude, rude, rude, rude!
Some other things Miss Polite does during the course of her movie: lie to her father, hang up on her father, boss people around, run around town asking total strangers if they were adopted, sneak into people’s houses without apologizing, ignore her boyfriend, receive gifts without saying thank you, rifle through people’s things when they’re right in front of her politely asking her not to, and utterly and completely ransack a man’s store.
I almost said I knew I wouldn’t like Nancy Drew when Nancy uttered that ridiculous lie about valuing politeness, but really it was much earlier than that. The Nancy Drew franchise has recently undergone a massive re-branding campaign. 2004 saw the launch of the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series, with all-new (pretty cool) cover design, a vaguely hipper image for the Girl Detective herself, weird first-person narration (I can’t get used to it), and a silly tagline: “Get ready for the all-new Nancy Drew—she’s got a new look, a new car, some new friends, and loads of new cases to crack!” She’s even got a series of graphic novels these days. The other side of the Nancy makeover is the recent acknowledgment of her historical significance; Applewood Books jumped into the way-back machine and has been reprinting the original 1930s novels, in which Nancy is shockingly independent for a young woman (far more so than in the more familiar 1950s re-launch), in lavish editions with gigantic scholarly introductions.
So perhaps the oddest thing about the new movie is that, with all this hip-new-Nancy and significant-old-Nancy going around, it chooses not to riff off either one of them (in fact, the only nod to books at all is that bookshelf opening, which, while nice-looking, is not exactly hip). Instead, the Nancy it presents us with is vaguely like the Nancy of the 50s: somewhat independent but not scarily so, proper, humorless, completely sincere, and bland. The world around her is the world of today (or, rather, the world of today’s teen movies), however, and it seems almost as if the goal was to create a spoof along the lines of the 1995 Brady Bunch Movie, with humor in the interplay of the dated main character and current surroundings. Or, at any rate, it seems like it for about fifteen minutes. Then it falls through, as the movie abandons that premise.
Which brings me to another point: this is a hellishly sloppy movie. Various subplots, subtexts, genres, stylistic choices, characters, motivations, and, hell, even overactive score and soundtrack cues, bubble up to the surface briefly and then vanish, sometimes forever, sometimes to return at inopportune moments. It goes out of its way to introduce a horrible little child to be Nancy’s useless, creepily sexual twelve-year-old sidekick, and then drops him completely for the entire climax. It expends a lot of effort on creating a social nemesis for Nancy in the ultra-“stylish” Inga…and then the script suddenly makes them friends for no reason. At one point, about halfway through the movie, Nancy helpfully tells us, “I only found out recently that movies aren’t shot in order.” The hard part for me is deciding which way to joke about that line: do I say that this movie feels like it got edited together wrong, or do I say it feels like it was filmed in order, by a very forgetful director?
The Nancy Drew novels have never been the most competently crafted books out there, but they still manage to be beloved by legions. And this movie certainly captures most of the usual content of the books: creepy caretakers, weird coincidences, physical peril, abduction, the appearance of supernatural goings-on, bizarre circumstances in which Nancy is living in a house other than her own in some other part of the world (even if it’s just Los Angeles) for a few months, dumb thugs, completely unsurprising plot twists, and even a clumsy introduction of a new mystery at the very end. The novels always contain a lot of esoteric knowledge about a very specific subject—the Amish, say, or the making of bells—and this movie nods in that direction with its occasional Hollywood factoids.
Where it really goes wrong is in its tone: it never feels like Nancy Drew, in any of her incarnations: new, old, or older. It’s as if I were to build a model of, say, London. I’ve never been there, but it’s been described to me. And I’m not very good at modeling, but I could cut out some shapes in cardboard and glue them to something. The end result wouldn’t look anything at all like London, but you could probably see something vaguely London-y in there somewhere. Similarly, these filmmakers seem like they don’t have any firsthand knowledge of what Nancy Drew is like, nor are they very good at making movies, but they’re trying their darnedest anyway. The real Nancy Drew is out there, somewhere, but this just ain’t her.
Nancy Drew is currently in wide release.
By: Ethan Robinson
Published on: 2007-06-28