Some Secrets Hollywood Shouldn’t Keep

Usually, the great entertainment machine is unable to keep a secret about anything – especially if it has to do with someone’s sexual morals.

Yet there are times when studios choose to keep the strangest things under wraps, like certain movies. Working as a film reviewer for families, I often leave theater screenings wondering how and why a particular film was able to find its way into the coveted mainstream artery of big screen hoopla. Meanwhile others much more worthy of attention are left to die a quiet economic death.

I hate to pick on any particular title, but one in my memory is a thriller called Darkness Falls.

A quick glance at a film critics’ portal like Rotten Tomatoes indicates I wasn’t alone in adding my critical voice to the many others who questioned, “How did this thing get made?”

To be fair, Darkness Falls isn’t a horrible movie because of twisted sexual content or any other particular immorality. In fact it has no sexual content, but does contain profanities and violent scenes typical of a cheap horror movie, making this film unacceptable for most families.

Instead, Darkness Falls is simply a bad movie. Its poorly crafted storyline offers a cracked foundation upon which a film with major construction problems has been built. Reeking of film school techniques, this scary movie about the tooth fairy has been created by people with little experience in making major motion pictures.

Yet with all this against it, Columbia/Tri-Star still saw fit to grant this movie a “wide release,” meaning it is playing at a theater near me, you, and most other North Americans. Just as amazing, while other more “notable” films jockey for position during an always-busy release schedule, Darkness Falls managed to be a lone runner on a very quiet January weekend, and that’s likely the sole reason it has grossed close to $25 million.

This is one movie that should have been kept secret.

Then there’s an even bigger mystery about some real Little Secrets.

Unlike other more “important” movies for which I often receive multiple screening copies weeks before releasing on home video, a package with Little Secrets on DVD finally arrived at my office the day after the title’s video release. Fortunately, I had already rented a copy at my local Blockbuster, as I was unable to screen the film in a theater anywhere near me. After sharing the film with my family (two boys and two girls), I knew this was an undiscovered gem.

Little Secrets is a movie about a 14-year-old girl named Emily (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Emily serves her neighborhood by being the “Secret Keeper.” Like Peanuts’ Lucy who offered psychological advice for a nickel, Emily’s back yard secret booth costs 50 cents.

A parade of children line up each afternoon, many with broken objects in their hands, ready to confess to Emily their darkest doings. One admits to having a cat hidden in her closet without the knowledge of her highly allergic sister. Another holds a broken piece from an elaborate chess set.

In essence, Emily is playing the part of priest and psychologist – but without the wisdom to understand how she is facilitating dishonesty throughout the neighborhood. Eventually a series of incidents allow Emily to understand why keeping some secrets isn’t a good idea. In the end, the Secret Keeper must face the inevitable and convince her clients to take their broken hearts and treasures to the ultimate authority – mom and dad.

This story is unique, solid, and captivating. In every sense, a true family film that may be a little more appealing to girls but nonetheless easily held the attention of my 10-year-old son.

Coincidentally, it also comes from Columbia/Tri-Star, who chose to open Little Secrets on only a few hundred screens. Needless to sayß it died a quick death in theaters despite receiving praise from many critics, including two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper—although Ebert’s review comes with this rider: “I am rating this movie at three stars because it contains absolutely nothing to object to. That in itself may be objectionable, but you will have to decide for yourself.”

Ahh… the uphill battle faced by “non-objectionable” family films.

Like Darkness Falls, Little Secrets is the creation of virtual unknowns, with a cast that is hardly going to burn down the marquee. Yet this is a good movie in every sense of the word. No language, no sex, and only a moment of “violence” occurs when a girl accidentally falls. (For some reason the MPAA gave the film a PG rating, but please trust me – this is a very low PG. Ebert as well is left wondering what the MPAA saw in this film to concern parents.)

Certainly Columbia/Tri-Star isn’t the only studio to have made such disappointing marketing decisions. True family movies with broad age appeal and solid stories are usually left to fight their way to the top. Some, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, (which Brent Bozell covers for its video release this week) manage to get their heads above the red ink. Others, like Miramax’s The Mighty, Disney’s The Rookie, or Columbia’s Little Secrets, are waiting for you to do the job of the studio’s marketing department.

Otherwise we will continue to hear studio executives whine about how family films with no sex and violence never make any money.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…