What can I say about Every Secret Thing that expresses what I thought about it in an eloquent, professional manner?
I can say that it was one of the films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival that I was genuinely excited for due to the talent on board. This includes Amy Berg as director, Nicole Holofcener as screenwriter, Frances McDormand as producer, and Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning and Diane Lane as the cast.
That is an impressive bunch of talent working on one film.
So how did it go so wrong?
The story starts when an infant is stolen off the front porch of the mother’s house and two young girls are accused and sent to jail. After their release years later, a similar case is filed and the two of them are brought back into the threshold and the movie spends it’s time dissecting the two, their motives, their secrets and their lies, and what made them do what they did years ago.
An intriguing idea with all of the set up to create a similarly intriguing film but instead the outcome is tired, melodramatic and seems destined for a Lifetime Original Movie. Much of what the film tried to do fails because of the overwrought nature. The musical cues were over the top, the directing style that seemed to love capturing the nefarious glances that the suspects gave added a goofy quality to content that was very serious in nature, and the conclusion of the film is frustrating at best, absurd at worst.
When a movie tries to force an idea or a message or a theme on you, and it takes the entire movie to prove its point and uses the very last image to sell it, there’s some editing needed.
The acting is solid if not a little dull with Diane Lane having the most fun out of anyone in the cast. Elizabeth Banks is typically known for her comedies and while this was supposed to be a dramatic turn for her, for the most part she kept her head down and read her lines without going beyond what was called for. She was there to recite words, rather than act.
Dakota Fanning turns in a strong, reliable performance but the script disservices her by not giving her character enough to do. She starts out strong but as the film continues is simply written less and less.
The main issue I had with the film was how it introduced strong ideas and then went nowhere with them. The abhorrent nature of prioritizing beauty is brought up and it could have been a fantastic way to tell the story but it’s discarded. Alice Manning (played by Danielle MacDonald) is overweight and isn’t the thin, conventional beauty that Fanning’s Ronnie is. She tells the cops that because of that Ronnie got a lesser sentence while Alice got a harsh one despite her “innocence”. She tells them that no one believes the fat girl.
It’s a bright spot that’s quickly diminished when it’s ignored about five minutes later.
There’s also a good story in there about nature vs. nurture when we see the part that Lane’s character has played in the mess. Her distain for her own daughter due to her looks and her affection for Ronnie and how that muddled the waters of the original crime could have made for a thrilling and even heartbreaking film.
I want to talk highly about this film because of my love for so many involved but it lacked so many components that make a strong film that it’s hard even trying to pick out high points. Even the opening credits where they roll over the montage of news clippings highlighting what happened after that fateful day when the girls kidnapped the infant scream B movie. I’m immensely curious to see if I’m the minority in the opinion that it was a film that was shallow, lacking a clear direction that it wanted to follow and ideas of themes they wanted to play with.
See it if you’re into crime movies but otherwise it wouldn’t hurt to give it a pass.