It’s not everyday that a character that’s been around for nearly 80 years gets a modern, big screen revamp, but in modern Hollywood, name value is everything. It’s been about five years since Nancy Drew last crossed over from her book-based world into the fast paced realm of visual media in an ABC movie of the week. Everybody knows Nancy Drew. They know that she lives in River Heights and that she’s a teenage girl that solves mysteries both tedious and mundane in her own backyard.
So much like they did with the Brady Bunch movie this Nancy’s the same, but the whole world around her has changed. Transplanted from her home temporarily to the much seedier Los Angeles, Nancy (Emma Roberts) and her father Carson (Tate Donovan) move into a haunted Hollywood mansion. Nancy’s intrigued, but she’s promised her father that she’d set aside her sleuthing ways and try and live like a normal teenage girl. But this is Nancy we’re talking about and the clues come to her whether she’s actively looking for them or not and soon she even starts to attract the attention of people willing to do anything to make sure the mystery stays buried.
Writer/director Andrew Fleming seems to be smart enough to know what works about Nancy Drew and avoids the pratfall of trying to “modernize” her. She’s still as sweet and innocent as ever, she kills with kindness offering bribes of lemon squares to reluctant sources and keeping a perfectly organized little sleuthing kit, while cheerfully wondering who’s trying to kill her. While the mystery she’s investigating isn’t of the same earth-shattering urgency of the murder of Lily Kane on Veronica Mars, it’s perfectly in keeping with Nancy’s world and does involve secret children and houses with hidden passages.
The one element that didn’t work as well, and unfortunately it rather consumes a great deal of the film’s running time, is Nancy’s (lack of) integration into modern LA high school society. It was like Mean Girls without, well, everything that made Mean Girls what it was. Just your typical high school prattle about how Nancy doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t dress like Blossom and use ridiculous anagrams like BFF. All-in-all, I wish that Fleming had left well enough alone and kept the action in River Heights and brought the world to them. The beginning of the film where the whole gang is there including Ned, George, Bess and local police chief McGinnis works the best and is the most enjoyable part of the movie.
Further to the point, the most important reason to see and enjoy Nancy Drew came in the form of a trailer before the movie. Apparently some bright studio exec decided to turn those ridiculous square-headed Barbie rip-offs the Bratz into a live-action movie. In the trailer, they use the phrase BFF no less then three times and the trailer ends with the ever popular exclamation OMG, all to the tune of “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne.
In the choice between the old-fashioned Nancy Drew and the up-to-date Bratz, there is no contest; I’ll take the well-spoken, intelligent and polite girl over the youth-industry mouthpieces any day of the week. And honestly, who would you rather have as your daughter’s roll model the “actress” that cries for Mom when sent to jail on a DUI or the girl that put her there? Exactly.