Top critical review
Call it "Lawn Cats"
on February 24, 2003
Sorry, folks who loved it, this movie did not engage me on any level. How it can be considered good or wholesome family fare is beyond me. I am a huge fan of Evan Rachel Wood's, whose exit from kid roles this surely was, but she deserved a better script and story, and worse, she photographed so painfully thin (we daren't use the a-word) it was distracting.
If satire is what closes on Saturday night, failed whimsy can't even get a tryout in Des Moines. Played seriously or for laughs, or even as tragicomedy, this might have been a winner of a film. As it was--too grim to be cute, and too un-kid-savvy to be of interest to any but the youngest children and the most sentimental adults--it's a mishmash that taxes every degree of suspension of disbelief. The female filmmakers know their homages and toss them around like confetti, lifting a little from this big-screen movie here and that TV sitcom there, but in-jokes do not a coherent film produce all by themselves.
True, no dogs were killed or toys chewed up by power mowers as in Lawn Dogs, but the spoofed exurban setting and wacky kids were there, as were the little paper bags that Mischa Barton pulled around in her little red wagon in the other movie, which was outright whimsy and therefore more successful even when it turned not only serious, but tragic. One of the wacky kids in Little Secrets catches cats in a butterfly net. Riding bikes with those silly helmets was better filmed in My Girl, That Night and any number of other kid films of recent years. There is even a grimy little boy Digging To China in his backyard (his secret, I suppose), but guess what, everybody? Evan Rachel Wood made her movie debut in a very good movie of the same name when she was ten! How hip a homage is THAT?
I could only wish, watching Evan's mostly unconvincing moves as a violinist, that she had been ten again, and could get a legitimate laugh with setting up a lemonade stand-like "doctor's office," like Lucy in Peanuts, by interacting with other ten-year-olds that were supposed to be her "clients" and paid 50 cents each for her "services," part of which was hiding broken and stolen stuff in these little brown lunch bags. But playing a 14-year-old going on 30, and looking as well turned out and coiffed as any sophisticated high school senior, E.R. reminded me that teenagers and little kids of today simply do not interact, no matter how much we might wish that they did, or that they did when we were younger, but don't any more. This meant, when things turned serious in the movie, as they did all too quickly, the descent into bathos rather than pathos was accelerated, the skids greased by making Evan Rachel Wood the youngest movie protagonist ever to have her very own Inner Child.
In terms of child stars with speaking parts, Little Secrets is the Movie Of The Year. Even the kids who were seen but not heard, and there were far more of them throughout, will be able to look back fondly, along with their agents, and say they were part of it. But as entertainment today, one star--with or without your kids in tow.