The character of Nancy Drew has been around for about seventy years. Though “Carolyn Keene” is credited with having created the characters and stories concerning the young girl detective, Ms. Keene is actually the nom de plume for a handful of writers who contributed to the popular series. Mildred A. Wirt Benson is perhaps the most prominent of the group since she “wrote 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories,” the first of which was published in 1929 (http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/history.html). From 1938 to 1939, Warner Brothers made four Nancy Drew films that starred Bonita Granville. There was a television series about Nancy Drew and the sleuthing brother duo, the Hardy Boys, in 1996 as well as a TV-movie in 2002. Now, in 2007, Nancy Drew is reborn on the big screen for a new generation of viewers.
In the new “Nancy Drew” (Andrew Fleming, who also wrote and directed “The Craft” and “Dick”), the heroine (Emma Roberts) is not eighteen years-old, as she is in the books, but is around the age of sixteen. She is certainly old enough to drive but appearance-wise seems more like a fourteen year-old. The story concerns the adventures she has in Los Angeles. Nancy’s father (Tate Donovan) takes on a job in LA, and Nancy promises him she won’t go sleuthing while they are there. He would prefer her to be a “normal” kid, not a teenage crime-fighter. Right. Nancy, of course, cannot resist the sleuthing urge. She picks the house they live in, one that comes with a mystery involving how a famous actress named Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring) from the postwar era died. Ned (Max Thierot), a friend from home, visits Nancy and spends the entire time trying to tell her that he likes her.
Although the film establishes Ms. Drew as being different from her peers in Los Angeles, it avoids high school social hierarchy drama because she and the audience are more concerned with getting to the bottom of the mystery, which by the end includes performances by Bruce Willis, Adam Goldberg, and Rachael Leigh Cook. Nancy is also at school for the duration of a montage sequence where we get to see her explain the quadriatic equation, recite lines from a Shakespeare play for theatre, and make a model of the Notre Dame in shop class (with twelve flying buttresses instead of twenty-four); she is clearly the superior student. Corky (Josh Flitter), a twelve year-old schoolmate, is so taken with the new kid in school that he appoints himself Watson to her Sherlock. Complete with car chases, scaffold climbing, secret passages, and a creepy caretaker (Marshall Bell), “Nancy Drew” mixes the retro “Scooby-Doo” cartoon tone with a modern, kid-friendly action oriented romp along the lines of “Catch That Kid” (Bart Freundlich, 2004).
I have never read a Nancy Drew book, so I cannot comment on whether or not Andrew Fleming’s film sufficiently captures the spirit of the girlhood icon. The movie is actually quite enjoyable. There are some issues with its representation of “reality” (the pacing prevents an accurate assessment as to how many days have passed between opening and closing the Dehlia Draycott case) but overall, I found myself not hating the film. There’s just one thing that troubles me about the way Nancy Drew is depicted. She is determined, a perfectionist, uber-organized, and efficient. Those qualities can be associated to geekdom, but they’re also symptoms of someone with a propensity for disordered eating or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hmmm. But as long as the bad guys get caught, it doesn’t really matter, eh?