Best for: This is a family film all ages can relate to and enjoy.
The plot: Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) is a talented girl who discovers a way to use her gifts to make money while dreaming of being the first chair violinist in the symphony. During her summer vacation, Emily decides to forfeit going to summer camp with her best friends so she can practice for symphony try-outs and make extra money as the neighborhood's trusted "secret keeper." Emily dispenses her savvy advice and helps the kids overcome their dilemmas, hide their deeds and escape the woes of childhood, earning their respect while making a pretty good income. But as Emily tries to solve others problems, she becomes painfully aware of her own issues. Emily resents that her Mom is having a baby and fears that her relationship with her parents will change. She also has a secret about her own upbringing that she wants to keep from her closest friends.
As the summer days drag by, Emily grows more proud of her ability to handle almost any problem. That is until Philip (Michael Angarano) and his older brother, David (David Gallagher), move in next door. Suddenly Emily has a fan of her musical talent and a protégé of sorts, as Philip becomes interested music. The two build a unique friendship based on their love of music, but when older brother David returns from summer camp, he takes an interest in Emily. As the two become close, the neglected Philip retaliates by stealing all of Emily's "secret keeping" clientele. Emily's friends turn against her for revealing one of their secrets to Philip, and she's faced with her deepest fears about the symphony. Emily discovers that everyone around her has a secret, and that she's not alone in having to face her fears.
The good: Blair Treu directs this award-winning movie (The Crystal Heart Award at the 2001 Heartland Film Festival) from a screenplay by Jessica Barondes. The story is clever because it takes a universal concept that both adults and kids can relate to and mixes it in with a multi-issue plot dealing with a new baby, being good enough to get a coveted position with a symphony, honesty, the consequences of keeping or sharing a secret, adoption and dealing with the simple fears that grip all of us in life.
The seasoned cast gives this story its charm and ultimately make the characters believable. Wood is impressive as the girl who can play her violin like an angel (she also happens to be starring in another current release, SIMONE, with Al Pacino). Angarano (Almost Famous) and Gallagher (7th Heaven) equally lend their veteran talents to this unique ensemble. This is a family film with something for everyone. The younger teen dilemmas are filled with typical hormonal angst and will connect on a real level with that age group.
The multiple scenes of neighborhood kids confessing their sins, secrets and hidden deeds to Emily are priceless and will entertain your younger ones. I also like the fact that the adults aren't made to be silly or stupid but instead are real characters dealing with real fears (having a baby late in life, being prepared for parenthood, being an older father, communication problems with a teen).
It's rare to find a story that deals with a common theme people of all ages can relate to, but this movie does. The struggle of dealing with secrets in our lives and the dilemma lies can produce is effectively dealt with in a clever way, with redemption, forgiveness and honesty being the real heroes in this story.
The bad: There is nothing bad about this movie.
Offensive language: None.
Sexual situations: None.
Violence: Emily falls off a roof and winds up in the hospital.
Parental advisory: This is a smart and sophisticated family movie that will appeal to all ages. When a story promotes family values, healthy parent/child and friend relationships, honesty, selflessness, forgiveness and even practicing the violin, how could a parent go wrong in taking your kids to see this movie?
It's a wrap: This is a well-written, wonderful story and certainly one of the more entertaining children's movie of the summer. I'll tell you a little secret - this story will tap into the part of you that holds a secret only you know about. It will remind you that there are some secrets that need to be left alone, others that need to be forgiven (and forgotten) and still others that need to be shared with close friends. The real secret to this gem of a movie is its meaningful message, which will make it a family favorite.