Nancy Drew (PG)
IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Thrilling Detective; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu
Nancy Drew, a character that first appeared in 1930 and soon became very popular, is a 16 year old amateur sleuth. She's appeared in lots of books and TV series and such, and is sometimes associated with the Hardy Boys. I suppose when I was young I was aware of both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, though I guess I was never hugely into either (but probably I was more into the Hardy Boys). And later on, I definitely lost interest. Still, I do like the idea of the character, so I had nothing against the idea of watching this movie, and the trailer actually looked pretty good to me. So I eventually got the DVD, and I definitely enjoyed the movie. Reviews were mixed, but I don't think anyone either loved or hated the movie, though the most common opinion seemed to be slightly closer to negative than positive, which is something I don't completely understand. Anyway, it's impossible for me to say how close the character in the movie, or the story itself, adheres to such things in earlier incarnations, but of course the various incarnations have changed over the decades, at any rate. The character in this movie does say she likes old-fashioned things, and maybe that's one reason I liked her, because I can often like such things, myself. (This conceit is useful for allowing her to dress and talk more like an earlier incarnation of the character might have, which I also appreciated.) Still, it's definitely set in the modern world, and Nancy uses a bit of modern technology (a digital voice recorder, and she looks stuff up online) along with all the old fashioned sleuthing tools.
Anyway, the movie starts with Nancy (Emma Roberts) solving a case in her home town of River Heights, where she seems to be quite popular for her sleuthing, and her work is greatly appreciated by the local police chief. (We see her friends Bess and George in a totally unimportant way; they might as well have been left out of the movie entirely, which kind of bugged me. I would've liked to have seen more of them, since I'm sure they're important to traditional Nancy Drew stories, and also happened to be played here by actresses I liked from other stuff, mainly on Disney Channel). We also see her friend Ned, whose actual relationship with her is unclear. He's sort of an almost-boyfriend, though it doesn't seem like the two of them have ever really defined their relationship. Still, he's clearly worried about her meeting some other guy when she goes to California. Which brings me to her father, Carson (Tate Donovan), who seems to be a lawyer or something. (Nancy's mother, by the way, died when Nancy was quite young, so Nancy doesn't really remember her.) Carson takes a job in California, believing that he needs more money (though Nancy thinks they have enough). I do know that in the books Nancy is rich, and while that may not actually be the case here, she and her father do have a housekeeper named Hannah, just like in the books, which isn't something most people who are struggling financially can afford, obviously. Also, the house they rent in California surely cost more than most people could afford. On the other hand, it's hard to believe she didn't have a cell phone, regardless of how much or little money her dad might have... but I guess we can chalk that up to her being old fashioned, and anyway, it becomes an important plot point, eventually.
But I digress. The house they rent, it is important to note, had once belonged to a famous actress named Dehlia Draycott, a fact which Nancy, who chose the house, hadn't told her father before they moved. There's a mystery surrounding Dehlia's death, which apparently many people have tried and failed to solve. Nancy, of course, wants very much to solve the mystery, but she promises her father she won't do any sleuthing while they're in California. So, she tries to fit in with the kids at her new school, but between her old fashioned tendencies and the fact that she's pretty much perfect at everything she does, she can't manage to fit in. But she does make one friend, a 12 year old boy named Corky who has a crush on her. He skipped a few grades to get into high school, though this has nothing to do with academic abilities. Aside from him, there are only two other kids we see much of, a couple of girls Nancy's age named Inga and Trish (Inga is Corky's older sister). The two of them don't really like Nancy at first, and when Ned comes to visit, Inga hopes to steal him away from her. (Corky is also jealous of Ned's relationship with Nancy, and Ned is confused about why Nancy's hanging out with Corky.)
Anyway, in spite of her promise to her father, Nancy can't help but try to solve the mystery of Dehlia Draycott's death, and uncovers the fact that the late actress had given up a daughter for adoption, but changed her will to provide for that daughter, and then the will went missing. Nancy eventually finds the young woman, Jane Brighton (Rachael Leigh Cook), who had no idea who her real mother was, and who now has a young daughter of her own. Also, the house where Nancy and her father are staying has a caretaker named Leshing, who used to work for Dehlia. And at some point, Nancy starts getting threats from someone to stop investigating the Draycott matter. But that only makes her more eager to solve the case.
I don't really want to say any more about the plot. But the movie has a sort of ironic self-awareness of its own corniness, and that of the main character, but at the same time... I dunno, it's like it can be funny at the same time it's taking itself semi-seriously. The mystery itself seems like something that would've worked nicely in the era when Nancy Drew was a brand new creation, but in this day and age the whole formula is dated and obviously unrealistic. In spite of that, I really liked the character as she was written, and I thought Emma Roberts did a great job of portraying her. The other characters were all pretty much ciphers and cliches, except for Corky, who was fairly amusing. I don't really know what else to say... the movie shouldn't have been much good, but I really liked it because of how quaintly and quirkily retro it was, and because Nancy herself was pretty cool, in her own way. Which is impressive, considering most people like her would have seemed uncool for decades now, even if she would have seemed cool acting like this in the 30s. (Or maybe it's just me; it could be that most modern moviegoers would see her as uncool, I dunno.) Whatever, I just found the movie really fun, and a refreshing throwback to a simpler time... even if it was set in the present, and the residents of River Heights were the only ones for whom time had more or less stood still.