Films

The case of the pint-sized secret agent

HARRIET THE SPY Directed by Bronwen Hughes

BARBARA WICKENS July 22 1996
Films

The case of the pint-sized secret agent

HARRIET THE SPY Directed by Bronwen Hughes

BARBARA WICKENS July 22 1996

The case of the pint-sized secret agent

HARRIET THE SPY Directed by Bronwen Hughes

Too often, children's movies seem to be either sentimental fables or extended commercials for related merchandise. But thankfully for

moviegoers of all ages this summer, Harriet the Spy fits into neither of those categories. It is based on Louise Fitzhugh’s popular 1964 novel same name about an 11-year-old girl spies on her parents, neighbors and friends, and records her obser vations in a private journal. Director Bron-

wen Hughes, a Toronto native making her feature film debut, has updated the novel for the 1990s—the “exotic” neighbors Harriet spies on, for instance, are now Asian instead of Italian—while keeping intact its plucky spirit.

Harriet, played with aplomb by 10-year-old TV veteran Michelle Trachtenberg [All My Children), suffers her first crisis when her beloved

nanny and mentor Golly (Rosie O’Donnell) decides to move on. That leaves Harriet feeling adrift when she runs into trouble after her classmates get hold of her journal. Shocked by its candid and sometimes catty contents, even her best friends ostracize her. Peace is eventually restored, but not before Harriet learns some difficult lessons.

What makes Harriet the Spy so refreshing are its true-to-life characters. Trachtenberg cap-

tures Harriet’s multifaceted charm—at once keen observer, bold prankster and lonely little girl. A toned-down O'Donnell shows her versatility in the small but crucial role of Golly, who dispenses wisdom along with wisecracks. It is Golly who encourages Harriet to stick with her writing—and to celebrate her individuality even when the whole world seems

against her. It is a message that anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, or just plain different, can appreciate.

BARBARA WICKENS