Harriet the Spy is based on the popular kid's book of the
same name by Louise Fitzhugh. I can't say I've ever read the book.
At the proper age, I believe I was embroiled in the adventures
of one Encyclopedia Brown. Harriet The Spy is, however,
the first theatrical film from Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon,
for those of you without kids or cable, is the wildly popular
children's cable network that has birthed such pop culture gems
as "Ren and Stimpy." Of the ten most popular shows on
basic cable, fully half can be found on Nickelodeon. With some
of their shows rated higher than network TV programs, the facts
bear out only one conclusion: It ain't just kids watching Nickelodeon.
And why should it be? With such hip adolescent offerings as "Rugrats,"
"Rocko's Modern Life" and "AAAHH!!! Real Monsters,"
Nickelodeon is fun for all ages. Hell, I watch Nickelodeon. So
why not branch out and do feature-length films? ... Well,
it seemed like a good idea anyway.
Harriet the Spy stars Michelle Trachtenberg (of Nickelodeon's
"The Adventures of Pete and Pete") as a pre-teen busybody
who spends her days spying on her friends and neighbors and writing
down every smidgeon of information in her sacred private notebook.
Rosie O'Donnell joins the party as Golly--Harriet's nanny, protector
and all-around sage advisor. Trachtenberg is wonderful. She was
a highlight of the already highly cool "Pete and Pete,"
and she only continues to build on her talents here. Trachtenberg
has the kind of sixth-grade savoir faire that makes me
wish I had a little sister. O'Donnell, on the other hand, is strangely
stiff and self-conscious as the far too venerable Golly. O'Donnell
reads every line as if she's quoting Aesop.
First-time director Bronwen Hughes gives Harriet plenty
of visual energy. Nickelodeon has always had a jazzy MTV style
with its shows. Quirky angles and perky music video editing work
well here, giving Harriet a unique visual style that most
will find entertaining. Harriet's biggest burden, however,
is overcoming a rather directionless script. It takes nearly half
the movie for Harriet The Spy to grow any semblence of
a plot. Harriet spends most of the movie simply observing her
neighbors. There's the Chinese family who owns the corner grocery,
there's the man who builds birdcages and collects cats, and for
some reason there's Eartha Kitt doing what looks like an imitation
of Swoosie Kurtz's role in True Stories. Problem is none
of these people have anything to do with anything. Eventually
Harriet loses her spy journal, her friends get ahold of it, read
it and decide to shun her for all the "truths" she has
written down. That's kind of it. For all the moralizing that Rosie
O'Donnell gets to do, I'm not really sure what the moral is here.
Nickelodeon was the first network to treat kids as intelligent,
hip and genuinely witty individuals. Their first attempt at
a theatrical film tries its best to emulate those features.
Something got lost along the way, however. Guess we'll just have
to wait until David Lynch agrees to direct The Adventures
of Pete and Pete: The Movie.
--Devin D. O'Leary
Harriet the Spy
Other Films by Bronwen Hughes
Forces of Nature
Film Vault Suggested Links
The Santa Clause
Operation Dumbo Drop
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
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