At the beginning of "Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain"--a charming yet substantial adventure movie aimed at adolescent girls--13-year-old Beth (Christina Ricci), arriving in a picture-book Oregon village nestled in the most spectacularly beautiful mountain setting imaginable, asks petulantly, "Where's the mall?"
Fearing the prospect of a boring summer, Beth, a deep-dyed L.A. girl, is completely oblivious to the magnificence of her surroundings. Never fear, for very swiftly she discovers such excitement that her very life is in danger. What happens is that she strikes up a friendship with the town's rebellious outcast, Jody (Anna Chlumsky), who tells her of a legend concerning an Irish immigrant lass, disguised as a boy, who discovers gold in nearby Bear Mountain--and who may have survived a tunnel cave-in that killed the rest of the miners long, long ago. Jody is convinced that there's still gold in them thar hills.
Writer Barry Glasser hits just the right note, creating a lively Nancy Drew-style entertainment for girls on the threshold of womanhood yet giving them adult respect. There's a serious subplot in which the source of the self-reliant Jody's seeming acts of defiance are a response to the apparent fact that she and her alcoholic mother (Diana Scarwid) are at the mercy of her mother's unemployed boyfriend (David Keith), an attractive good ol' boy on the surface but physically abusive in private. Glasser shrewdly keeps us guessing at the truth of the situation while making the larger point that young people can have a very hard time getting adults to investigate such a matter let alone believe them. Kevin James Dobson's direction matches the judiciousness of Glasser's script, resulting in an intelligent entertainment enlivened with first-rate performances all around, including a nicely drawn portrait by Polly Draper of Beth's mother, a recent widow caught in the dilemma of how far to trust her daughter in her new friendship with the unpredictable and widely shunned Jody. Cinematographer Ross Berryman captures the grandeur of the film's setting, but at times Joel McNeely's grandiose score threatens to overwhelm this unpretentious picture. It's a testament to the film's sturdiness that it survives McNeely's unintended efforts to drown it.
Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, 1995. PG, for mild language and thematic elements, including a child's exposure to domestic abuse. A Universal presentation. Director Kevin James Dobson. Producers Martin Bregman, Rolf Deyhle, Michael S. Bregman. Executive producer Louis A. Stroller. Screenplay by Barry Glasser. Cinematographer Ross Berryman. Editor Stephen W. Butler. Costumes Mary McLeod. Music Joel McNeely. Production designer Michael Bolton. Art director Eric A. Fraser. Set decorator Elizabeth Wilcox. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Christina Ricci as Beth Easton. Anna Chlumsky as Jody Salerno. Polly Draper as Kate Easton. Brian Kerwin as Matt Hollinger. Diana Scarwid as Lynette Salerno. David Keith as Ray Karnisak.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun