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Born in the 1964 book by Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet is an eleven-year-old with parents that are too busy, and a curiosity that never quits. She hangs with the "unpopular" group at school, and spends most of her home time with Ole Golly, her nanny (Rosie O'Donnell). But the center of her life is a notebook with a big PRIVATE written across the front cover. Within these pages is everything Harriet has observed as she keeps an eye on each of her friends. The problem is that Harriet records facts and opinions, so when she accidentally leaves her notebook where her classmates can find it, her innermost thoughts are exposed, and Harriet is shunned by everyone. About the same time, Golly decides to work elsewhere, leaving Harriet feeling lost and alone.
Children always benefit when parents watch movies with them, and in this case, parental guidance is a necessity. Otherwise, Harriet becomes another movie with working parents, mean kids at school, and miserable teachers. When parents ask questions like -- Should she spy on people? Should she have written things about others? Were her actions toward her classmates justified, considering what they did to her? -- they can help unveil the real secrets in this movie.
You may want to be especially aware of a pivotal scene when Golly returns to help Harriet confront her problem. "You have to apologize and then you have to lie," Golly says, advising Harriet that, "Sometimes a little lie that makes someone feel better isn't really wrong." Personally, I think most children will find it difficult knowing what qualifies as "a little lie."
This was Canadian director Bronwen Hughes' first feature film. Her previous experience with television commercials accounts for the choppy overdone MTV style of directing in Harriet. The technique distracts attention from the complex relationships that are forming between the characters. In other regards, Harriet may provide an accurate view of life as seen by a sixth grader, and should be of interest to most viewers over the age of ten.
Harriet The Spy is rated PG: for mild language and some thematic elements
Cast: Michelle Trachtenberg, Gregory Smith, Rosie O'Donnell
Studio: (pictures ?1996 Paramount Pictures)