To sleuth or not to sleuth, that is Nancy Drew’s question in this utterly delightful big screen adaptation of Carolyn Keene’s beloved series of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories that began with The Secret of the Old Clock. Set in modern day America, teenaged Nancy (the adorable Emma Roberts) is the brightest gumshoe unofficially associated with the River Heights Police Department who never loses her cool whether it’s diffusing a bomb with a cool head or engaging in an automobile chase while strictly adhering to the speed limit.
After her life is jeopardized in the film’s bravura opener, her widowed father Carson Drew (Tate Donovan) makes Nancy promise to give up sleuthing when they temporarily move to Los Angeles for his work. Sad to leave her good friend Bess and “very good friend” a.k.a. unofficial boyfriend Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot) behind, Nancy finds abandoning detective work even tougher, especially given that she chose their rental home in Hollywood precisely because it’s the site of one of tinseltown’s most notorious unsolved mysteries surrounding the murder of the home’s former owner, gorgeous Audrey Hepburn like movie star Dehlia Draycott (Mulholland Drive’s Laura Elena Harring).
After a book on advanced sand castle making fails to hold her interest, Nancy gets back to her old ways enlisting the aid of her new twelve year old sidekick with a hopeless crush, Corky (Josh Flitter) and a jealous Ned who drives up Nancy’s beloved blue convertible to surprise her, and instead finds himself surprised to discover Corky, however he's predictably unsurprised to find Nancy playing girl detective once again. Armed with her sleuthing kit and with plenty of baked goods in tins ready to bribe anyone who may need a little convincing, Nancy nearly wears out her penny loafers and retro dresses (sewn from her mother’s patterns) as the case grows far more mysterious and dangerous.
Refreshingly, director Andrew Fleming (helmer of 2003’s The In-Laws) and his co-writer, the first time screenwriter Tiffany Paulsen, fight the temptation to make Nancy too modern and although she now has an iPod and access to the internet, she’s sweet-natured and wholesome as ever, winning over others with her sincerity despite becoming the source of ridicule from some of her more Britney Spears or Hannah Montana like classmates. As a former wannabe girl detective who spent hours in childhood pouring over Keene’s mysteries, I was nervous and skeptical to view what all probability suggested would be a failed adaptation given Hollywood’s insistence on sexualizing teen girls in countless grotesque comedies yet Nancy Drew is winningly old-fashioned, yet just like the books were to me in the late 80’s and early 90’s filled with ideas that celebrated female independence and ingenuity destined to make it even more accessible to teens who take the time to seek Drew out. A rare quality filled family picture with an impeccable characterization by Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) as our title heroine, Nancy Drew’s celebration of its girl sleuth may have even made Carolyn Keene proud.