Little Secrets

We watched “Little Secrets” on a screener tape provided by the distributor. I thought, “This looks like a Disney Channel movie.” A friend watching it with me said, “This looks like a Disney Channel movie.” Halfway through, another friend walked in, took one look at it, and said, “Is this a Disney Channel movie?”

I hate to start a movie review with an anecdote about watching it, but these events describe “Little Secrets” perfectly. The cinematography is bright and sunny, the music is unobtrusively wacky, the tone is light and the budget is cheerfully low.

Directed by BYU alumnus Blair Treu, who has, yes, worked on Disney Channel films, “Little Secrets” was shot in Salt Lake City. And it is every bit as harmlessly chipper as you’d expect a family-oriented movie by a BYU alumnus shot in Salt Lake City to be.

It is set in suburbia — Colorado, we learn 90 minutes into the film, and only by looking closely at a letter someone receives. It’s an idyllic summer on a friendly, tree-lined street. The numerous neighborhood kids trust in Emily (Evan Rachel Wood), a 14-year-old girl who works one afternoon a week as a “secret keeper,” wherein children pay her 50 cents in exchange for getting something off their chests and receiving a little sisterly advice. This kid swiped some money from his dad’s wallet; that one’s digging a hole to China; you know, regular kid stuff.

Also, these kids apparently spend most of their time accidentally breaking their parents’ things, because Emily’s foot locker is full of evidence that she holds for the kids until such time as they choose to ‘fess up to their parents.

Emily’s mother is pregnant, and Emily’s freaking out about it due to a secret she has. (It is nothing salacious, but it is a secret, so I won’t tell you.) See, that’s the thing: The pressure of knowing everyone’s minor, childish peccadillos gets to her after a while, especially when she has her own issues to deal with.

In the meantime, she has developed a casual friendship with Philip (Michael Angarano), the 12-year-old boy next door who has a crush on her. He is in awe of her prowess on the violin, which she practices constantly, preparing for an audition for the youth symphony coming up soon. In fact, she has forsaken summer camp this year in order to rehearse.

Two lines of dialogue sum up what the movie is about. Someone observes, “If you want to be close to someone, you can’t keep secrets from them.” Or, put more simply by another character at another juncture, “Secrets hurt.”

It is hard to fault a film with so guileless a philosophy — the importance of honesty and familial love are also emphasized — no matter how unimaginative it may be. The idea of a neighborhood “secret keeper” is an amusing one, but Treu and screenwriter Jessica Barondes do not focus on it enough, and what they do manage to do with it is nothing special. There is also too much frou-frou involving Emily’s little secret, a subplot with Philip’s rebellious brother, Emily’s devotion to a particular symphony conductor, and her violin teacher’s (Vivica A. Fox) personal life. These disparate elements do not tie together enough to justify keeping them all in the film.

The performances from the children are natural and charming, though, a major plus, since the movie focuses on them. The movie will appeal greatly to kids the age of the characters — 9-14, roughly — and it will be good for them to watch. Everyone else can bask in the brightness of the fun little world of Anytown, U.S.A.

C+ (1 hr., 37 min.; PG, mild thematic elements; nothing serious.)