Good films for young teens are few and far between. Most films aimed at this target audience are more the over-the-top, cartoony variety or the extremely sappy and storybook kind. Rarely do you find a film for young teens that is serious, emotional and at all complex. Little Secrets is a little film with a big heart; it makes a real attempt at being a 'quality' teen film.
Little Secrets is really two films, or at least two stories. In one sense it's a story about a teen named Emily who every Wednesday for fifty cents a pop sits down and 'keeps' the secrets of all the neighborhood kids. Broke mom's ming vase? Never fear, you can confess your secret to Emily and she'll help you cover it up. In another sense Little Secrets is about a teen girl following her love and passion for music while at the same time going through the period of time where she begins to learn the difference between 'friend' and 'boy friend'. I really wish writer Jessica Barondes would have stuck with the coming of age story over the secrets one as it's really the much more compelling of the two.
The most enjoyable parts of Little Secrets are the scenes which revolve around Emily and her music. It's great to see such a positive portrayal of a teen and her passion for music. I also liked how the characters around her are touched by her passion, as if it were contagious. Little Secrets also has a nice theme running through it of friendship, and I think it speaks very well to the period of time when a girl is really discovering boys and trying to sort out who is a friend and who is a possible romantic interest. The film does this quite well with a relationship between Emily and the two brothers who live next door, Phillip and David, and I really liked the scene with the two brothers as they discuss being able to see Emily's beauty. Make no mistake about it, Little Secrets has some really nice and genuine moments.
Unfortunately Little Secrets also has not so great and not so well crafted moments. The entire sub-plot with Emily being the neighborhood secret keeper (this the film's title) never really works. On the front end its strange to see a teen advise other kids to lie and cheat and then on the back it feels really preachy when the effects of the lying and cheating come back to roost. In this category a Director has to walk a careful balance between a feature film and an afterschool special and this sub-plot really pushes the scales towards afterschool special.
Despite some really big problems with the script, Director Blair Treu does get some very strong performances from his actors. Evan Rachel Wood (who is best known for her role in Once and Again) does a very good job in the lead role of Emily. She's got a nice emotional range which will suit her well in her blooming career. Michael Angarano, who plays Phillip, the younger neighbor boy, is also quite good. Angarano seems very at ease in his role and gives a very real and genuine performance. I was especially glad to see Vivica A. Fox in a good role. Many of the film role she takes are over the top, and in Little Secrets she gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Emily's music teacher.
Little Secrets has enough problems to keep it from being a great film, but with so few quality films out there for teens it a strong contender in a weak field. Unlike some of the better kids films (like Stuart Little 2) which are fun for both kids and parents, Little Secrets is probably best enjoyed by teens, but that make sense - after all, they constantly contend we never 'really understand them'.