Film Review: Little Secrets
by Jonathan Walker

Keeping secrets seems innocent enough-especially if they are truly kept. Who gets hurt? Little Secrets explores the significance of secrets that are meant to keep people from really knowing each other.

Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) found that she has a very useful marketable skill: she can keep a secret. The kids of the neighborhood rely on her to help them keep the secrets they don’t want their parents to know. Some of the secrets, though, are too big and they start to gnaw at her. Philip and David (Michael Angarano and David Gallagher) move in next door and as she develops friendships with them, she finds that secrets interfere with friendship, her dreams, and even her happiness. She must decide whether her secrets are worth the price they will cost.


David Gallagher, Evan Rachel Wood, and
Michael Angarano

Little Secrets has the sweetness of a wholesome family film with none of the saccharine mush that usually compensates for writing. While some of the children’s dialogue is a bit over-written, the screenwriter Jessica Barondes does a good job of drafting children that are real. They are neither the stereotypes drawn by people who know nothing of children, nor adults in kids’ skin that Hollywood usually provides as a way of grabbing an adult audience.

But, Secrets gives us another surprise: a script that has a theme that is more fully developed than in a vast majority of the cotton candy coming out of the big studios in Hollywood. Much of the dialogue, plot, and character traits support and comment on the theme. Secrets is a wonderful family-friendly film.

It’s also wonderful for the fact that it is very well directed. Blair Treu at times keeps the film light-when he shows us the quirky kids of the neighborhood-and respect for his talented actors-when the emotions of the film take hold. He shows much more proficiency in working with good child actors than most directors.


Director Blair Treu

Little Secrets does not argue about whether there are good or bad secrets. Instead, in the film keeping secrets becomes a way for the kids of the neighborhood to hide their mistakes and for Emily to hide who she really is. They become a way to shield herself from getting close to people. But more disturbingly, the secrets stand it the way of maintaining personal integrity. They allow the “secret keeper” to live a lie.

Expunging these secrets is a way of developing integrity. How can anyone think that weaknesses and mistakes can be kept as secrets? We act as though perfection is the norm and mistakes are so rare that one must hide them to be accepted. We are human, so we have them…just like everyone else.

Wanting to hide our mistakes seems natural enough, but Emily is guilty of trying to hide parts of her personality that are not “negatives”-as her mother says. Secrets indicates that we cannot truly become close to people-and become their friends-so long as we refuse be ourselves with them. Emily’s new friend David said, “If you want to be close to someone, you can’t keep secrets from them.” It is no accident that Emily only achieved her dreams because her friends knew her well.

In the film, Emily and Philip accidently break a cup from her mother’s china tea set. While the pattern has been discontinued and so irreplaceable, they do find a set of cheap knock-offs. That china set symbolizes Emily. When she would try and hide her mistakes, she moves from being authentic to being a cheap replacement, no longer authentic. She thought she looked the same, though her friends who returned from a summer at camp could see something different in her.


Emily (Evan Rachel Wood)

Treu and Barondes aren’t advocating hanging our dirty laundry out for all to see, or exposing ourselves to the world. They are talking about personal integrity and the trust one must have in each other in order to get close to people. Emily’s violin teacher (Vivica A. Fox) said it well, “You can’t keep secrets about yourself and lead a true life.”

Like Emily and the tea cup, we may hold within ourselves “the best kept secret in town,” but that doesn’t repair our shattered integrity.

(Little Secrets opens in Utah at the end of August 2002.)

 


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