A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Harriet M. Welsch shakes up her pop bottle to make it fizz, closes her eyes, and makes a wish: “I wanna see the whole world, and I wanna write down everything.” She becomes a junior Thomas Wolfe, prowling her neighborhood with a treasured notebook and making entries about the man with all the cats, the woman with the weird garden and the goings-on at the Chinese restaurant.
Harriet is the heroine of one of the most popular modern books for children, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, which has sold 2.5 million copies and served, I gather, as a great inspiration. On a book review page on the World Wide Web, adult women write in to testify to Harriet's influence: The book made one want to become a writer, another to become a journalist, and a third (who did not read it as carefully) to become a private eye.
Now here is the movie, made in cooperation with Nickelodeon and aimed at kids about the same age as Harriet, who is in the sixth grade. It is not a very technically accomplished movie--the pacing is slow and there are scenes that seem amateurish--but since Harriet doesn't intend to inspire anyone to become a movie critic, perhaps it will work a certain charm for its target audience.
Certainly Michelle Trachtenberg (of Nickelodeon's “Adventures of Pete & Pete”), who plays Harriet, makes a plucky young neighborhood snoop. She stands on piles of abandoned furniture to peer through dusty windows and climbs up on a roof to spy on the man with the cats, who has named them all after jazz greats.