Nancy Drew

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Nancy Drew
Review (4/10)
(By Jeffrey Chen)

Add “Nancy Drew” to the already huge pile of evidence that our culture, in its endless hunt for any kind of brand name to commercialize and cannibalize, has spiraled itself into a cynical postmodern pit from which we may never climb out of. Once upon a time, storytellers adapting an old tale actually believed in the stories they were passing down, but apparently they're not allowed to do that anymore. Instead, now the audience has to be aware of the creative franchise's place in the universe, of the contexts from which it emerged. As a result, today's storytellers analyze the story in the process of telling it -- never mind if the story itself was good on its own merits.

And so “Nancy Drew” opens in the titular character's hometown of River Heights, where she has solved another case and she's actually famous for solving cases, and the whole town treats her like a celebrity. In other words, she's famous to her town -- within her own world's context and perspective -- the same way she's famous to us, the people on the outside who might be reading her stories. The movie is self-aware, and to drive home this ironic approach, the film then relocates her to Hollywood, of all places, where it's made apparent to us that she's been living in a time warp this whole time. Her fashion is retro-50s ("I like old-fashioned things," explains Nancy, played by Emma Roberts), and many yucks are had watching her conduct herself with out-of-place etiquette in the midst of the rowdy/rude teenagers of Hollywood High.

It's ridiculous. Although I'm not familiar with the Nancy Drew character, having never read the books, I couldn't help wondering what the point of the movie was after this set-up. If I'm not going to be served a dose of what made the character and her books so appealing in the first place -- i.e., the girl, her personality, her friends, and her way of discovering and solving mysteries -- then why bother? Instead, the movie concerns itself with this silly fish-out-of-water premise it puts her in, while giving her traits that couldn't have shown up on the original Nancy -- such as her retro-mannerisms and self-diagnosed compulsion to solve mysteries. Seriously, her father (Tate Donovan) asks her, while they're in Los Angeles, to promise not to sleuth. They make "sleuthing" sound like a drug habit. "You promised not to sleuth," he says, to which Nancy later figures, "I have to sleuth, it's in my blood!"

So, of course, there's a mystery in Hollywood for her to solve, but its presentation feels a bit disingenuous, given everything else the movie seems distracted with. Turning Nancy's desire to do detective work into an existential quandary doesn't help with the mystery's feeling of silliness or superfluousness. “Nancy Drew” also conducts itself with a rather odd sense of randomness -- the humor is extremely goofy and predicated on nothing in particular, making much of it come across as rather surreal. While this keeps things interesting and makes much of the comedy unpredictable, in the end there's still no rhyme or reason for the tone.

Nancy Drew” just feels like another bad idea badly executed, somewhat like “Bewitched” a couple of years ago. It's another creative franchise falling victim to Hollywood's lack of creativity, desperately turning to irony to make a potentially unhip property palatable to modern young audiences. At worst, the brand was co-opted for a purpose incongruous to that of the source. I'll always believe this: the original stuff must've worked for certain reasons. Translate those reasons with a sincere effort, and maybe a movie can win audiences in the same way. Why risk alienating the already built-in fans with all this self-aware nonsense, which amounts to extra baggage and dead weight, while creating a mutated form of the original entity that may be related to it in name only?

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