United States, 2007
U.S. Release Date:
PG (Nothing Objectionable)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Emma Roberts, Max Thieriot, Tate Donovan, Josh Flitter, Rachel Leigh Cook, Barry Bostwick, Laura Elena Harring
Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen, based on characters created by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew is an effective translation of the source material, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The popular written series has been a staple for young female readers since the first books were published in the 1930s, and the movie will probably play well to its core niche audience. (As of 2006, there were 175 official Nancy Drew books in publication, plus a number of spin-offs including a popular Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew crossover series.) Unfortunately, for anyone who is not a girl between the ages of seven and 10, Nancy Drew will an unpalatable, dull, and predictable experience. The characters undergo nothing that could be remotely associated with development, the mystery is wafer-thin, and the slight plot is stretched to the breaking point in order to fill out 95 minutes.
There's no doubt that screenwriters Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen know their Drew lore, since they manage to shoehorn a lot of familiar characters and locations into this original story, which takes place far away from our heroine's fictional home town of River Heights. Nancy (Emma Roberts) and her father, Carson (Tate Donovan), have temporarily moved to Los Angeles for reasons to do with his job. Despite having promised to give up her hobby of "sleuthing," Nancy is intrigued by the mystery surrounding the house she and her father are renting. It's an aging mansion once owned by Hollywood star Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring), who died a quarter of a century earlier. Nancy figures out that Dehlia had a secret love child and that daughter might be in line to inherit a lot of money. So, following a trail of improbabilities and coincidences, Nancy tracks down Jane Brighton (Rachel Leigh Cook), while being aided by her boyfriend, Ned (Max Thieriot), and an annoying local, Corky (Josh Flitter). But someone doesn't want Nancy discovering the truth, and he's willing to resort to murderous means to keep it buried.
Although Nancy Drew has been updated to the 00's, the character remains rooted in the 1950s. Her attitudes, morals, and even clothing are retro. This opens up comedic possibilities, such as those attacked with relish in the one-joke The Brady Bunch Movie, but the producers of Nancy Drew lack a sense of humor. They play it straight. So instead of getting an amusing fish out of water scenario, we are presented with a heroine who is hopelessly out-of-touch and na´ve. She's too weird to be sympathetic. In fact, there's not much of a character there to speak of. Unless you have come to know and love Nancy through the books, you're likely to be bored to tears by the film's protagonist. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) was suitably cute in Aquamarine but here she's a blank slate. She fails to imbue Nancy with anything resembling charm or charisma. It doesn't help that her most common companions are the equally lifeless Max Thieriot and the terminally annoying Josh Flitter. It's a sad commentary on the state of the movie's acting when the best performance comes from Bruce Willis in an unbilled cameo.
When it comes to mysteries, Nancy Drew stories aren't meant to be in the same league as P.D. James or even Agatha Christie. They're blatantly transparent with a little misdirection but not enough to confuse anyone for long. For children, they mysteries are fun to solve alongside Nancy. For adults, they are diverting at best and (more often) tiresome at worst. When you don't have any reason to care about the victims, the perpetrators, or the detectives, what's the reason to see the movie?
Director Fleming has made the movie with Drew fans in mind and attempted nothing to widen the net of appeal. Unless you're among those who is reading her way through every book penned by the fictional Carolyn Keene or did so at some time during your life, the experience of sitting through Nancy Drew will not be a pleasant one. This isn't a bad movie in the way that many Hollywood productions are, but it caters to an exclusive club whose members are prone to overlook its numerous faults. For those of us on the outside looking in, that's the best place to stay with respect to the theater door. There's no mystery about why this incarnation of Nancy Drew was released. (She has appeared in numerous movies and TV series in the past.) The budget looks to be about $2, so it will make money. The real mystery is why no one made the effort to craft a more interesting film with a vibrant lead character. Faithfulness does not demand that the end product be as lively as a graveyard and as bland as matzo. Yet that's how Fleming interpreted things and the result could charitably be described as uninspired.