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).
Emily -- Evan Rachel Wood
Philip -- Michael Angarano
David -- David Gallagher
Pauline -- Vivica A. Fox