16 December 2005 | BeyondRosebud
A Film that never talks down to kids
I saw Harriet the Spy when it first came out and bought the video about a year ago. I had read the book back in the early eighties in the fifth grade and had never forgotten it. I always thought that it would make a good film (along with the Narnia tales and A Wrinkle in Time). The book was very engrossing and seemed a lot smarter and less condescending than some of the other books that wound up on school library 'recommended' lists.
The movie contains the same wit and utter lack of condescension, making it a rarity in the world of tweenage cinema.
Michelle Trachtenberg is very good. Her innate charisma and complete chemistry with Rosie o'Donnell make for perfect casting. Ms. O'Donnell herself shows once again how well she can carry off playing these quiet nurturing roles. (for another good performance by Rosie, see also Wide Awake)
Harriet seems like a typical albeit intelligent kid. Her friends are like real friends: they can be there for you and they can turn on you if they themselves feel under attack. This defense/offense posture is typical in a child's world. and that's what's great about Harriet the Spy. You never feel that the film is talking down to its audience or trying to present the child world in such a sweetened watered-down way so as to placate adults. Harriet and her friends have their little quirks. there's also the other kids who have wierdnesses about them that if we try hard we can all relate to. For instance, there exists in every classroom a perfect Teacher's Pet like Marion Hawthorne. There is also a Pinky Whitehead and a boy with purple socks. (probably me back then haha) the important thing is that the movie accepts their world without whitewashing or judging them for it. Those posters who felt that the movie was juvenile must understand that it WAS written for children. That doesn't however mean that adults should avoid it. It contains several themes that can be discussed and understood by anyone: Coping with school, Coping with Growing Up, Trouble with peers and miscommunication and isolation with parents and peers alike.
As i said earlier, The character of Harriet was well thought-out. They could've done a little better fleshing out the character of Janie. If i remember correctly, she had a somewhat larger role in the book. But they actually improved on Sport's role.
Some people have complained that the movie is disjointed and at times unrealistic. Well, try and think back to when you were eleven. wasn't the world somewhat surreal and disjointed? The movie is from The subjective lens of Harriet's minds-eye, an eye that see things with more than a little wit and imagination. Think back...then you'll get it.