In the past nine months, I've found myself thinking one thought more often than usual as I leave the movie theater: "I would have liked this when I was 12." Which is not to say I didn't like the movie as an adult. I was just surprised to find something both appealing and age-appropriate for a younger crowd and that I, as an adult, wouldn't mind watching along with the kids.
Recently, we've received a triple-threat of such films: Nancy Drew, now finally out on DVD this week; Enchanted, coming to DVD next week; and Penelope, now in theaters. These are three films — particularly the latter two — that I'd watch over and over.
"You're just not like the other girls, Nancy," one character tells the teen sleuth during Nancy Drew. (The same can be said of Penelope and Enchanted's Giselle, who perks your mood and shakes up fairy tale conventions without becoming cynical, and offers a truly touching appreciation for love and lasting relationships.)
I watched Nancy Drew again yesterday, with my mom. It's not a perfect movie — the juxtaposition of knee-sock-wearing, vinyl-album-loving Nancy and an occasionally old-fashioned tone, with the obligatory pop song soundtrack, Smallville references, and occasionally modern tone, didn't quite work. Emma Roberts is appealing, though, and so is Nancy Drew.
She's right out of the "ideal teen" handbook: smart, resourceful, confident, curious and rather well-adjusted for a girl whose mother has died and is often the target of would-be killers. In her world, lemon bars are part of a crime-fighting arsenal. Her idea of a good time is sleuthing, not sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll.
Not that sleuthing isn't dangerous. The movie's mystery centers on a murdered actress from back in the day, with clips from old film reels and old photos that build onto Nancy's retro feel. Kidnapping, murder attempts and standard high school public embarrassment lend the film its element of peril. Nancy takes these events in stride, though she does get a little rattled by not fitting in at school. Of course all the kids don't embrace Nancy, who sticks out as she over-achieves in all her classes, wears her preppy headbands and penny loafers, and prepares an extremely neat lunch setting compete with celery and carrot sticks.
Nancy still remains in touch, though, with modern reality. She uses a laptop and the Internet, and the people around her face real-life, legitimate struggles, such as single motherhood and broken families. Her superficial appeal is in her "throwback to the innocent years" veneer, but what really makes Nancy Drew work is her confidence, her resourcefulness, and her ability to talk excitedly about a murder case without a trace of the voyeuristic love of sensationalism that runs amok in our modern society. She is perhaps a little naive, but she is grounded enough to be refreshing.
In the end, we're not surprised to see Nancy's fashion sense appropriated (albeit fleetingly I'm sure, as trends go). More importantly is that Nancy's perseverance and unusual interest in sleuthing result in a solved murder case that helps to bring new life to the living. That's what I liked most about this film — ultimately, the case wasn't about death and the end of something so much as it was about new beginnings.