Harriet the Spy (film)
Harriet the Spy is a 1996 American coming-of-age film directed by Bronwen Hughes in her directorial debut, and starring Michelle Trachtenberg in her feature film acting debut. It co-stars Rosie O'Donnell, J. Smith-Cameron, Gregory Smith, and Vanessa Lee Chester. Based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Louise Fitzhugh, the film follows a sixth-grade student who aspires to become a writer and spy.
|Harriet the Spy|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bronwen Hughes|
|Based on||Harriet the Spy|
by Louise Fitzhugh
|Music by||Jamshied Sharifi|
|Edited by||Debra Chiate|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$26.6 million|
Filming began in the fall of 1994 in Toronto and was completed by the end of 1995. Produced by Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies and Rastar, it was the first film produced under the Nickelodeon Movies banner and the first of two film adaptations of the Harriet the Spy books. In theaters, the pilot episode of Hey Arnold! called Arnold was shown before the film.
The film was released in theaters on July 10, 1996. It made $26.6 million worldwide on a production budget of $12 million. The film was released on home media on February 25, 1997.
Harriet M. Welsch is an 11-year-old sixth grader in New York City who aspires to be a spy and writer. Her best friends are Simon "Sport" Rocque and Janie Gibbs. She lives a privileged life with her parents, Violetta and Ben and her nanny, Katherine "Ole Golly", who's the only person who knows all the things that Harriet has been snooping on. Harriet and her friends are enemies with an elitist rich girl named Marion Hawthorne.
One night while alone with Harriet, Golly invites a friend, George Waldenstein, over for dinner. After Golly accidentally burns the meal, the three go out to dinner and a movie instead. When the three return home late in the evening, Violetta becomes enraged at Golly for letting Harriet stay out past her curfew, and fires her. Violetta quickly regrets this and begs for Golly to stay, but Golly concedes that it's best for Harriet to be on her own. Shortly before she leaves, Golly encourages Harriet to never give up on her love for observing people, and promises her that she will be the first to buy her very own autographed copy of Harriet's first novel. After Harriet bids Golly goodbye, she becomes depressed and withdrawn. While spying on people in various areas of the city, Harriet breaks into the mansion of Agatha Plummer, and gets caught hiding in her dumbwaiter.
After school the next day, Marion discovers Harriet's private notebook and begins reading all of Harriet's vindictive comments about her friends out loud, such as how she suspects Janie "will grow up to be a nutcase", and teasing Sport's father for barely earning any money. This results in Sport and Janie turning their backs on Harriet. Harriet's classmates subsequently create a Spy-Catcher club and torment Harriet on her spy routes.
When Harriet begins failing her homework assignments, her parents take away her notebooks and request that her teacher, Miss Elson, search Harriet each day at school for notebooks, much to Harriet's embarrassment. One day, during art class, Marion and her friends intentionally pour blue paint on Harriet. Harriet responds by slapping Marion in the face and fleeing the school. Harriet enacts a revenge plot against her classmates, including exposing that Marion's father left her because he never loved her, cutting off a chunk of Laura's hair, sabotaging one of Janie's science experiments (triggering an angry response from Janie's parents), and humiliating Sport with a picture of him in a maid outfit. Harriet's revenge plans enrage her classmates, further alienating her.
Harriet's parents discover what she has done to her classmates and send her to be evaluated by a psychologist, who assures them that Harriet is fine. Then things start to get better again. Harriet gets her notebook back, and she even gets a surprise visit from Golly, who tells her that in order to make things right again, she must do two things: apologize and lie. When Harriet tells her that it's not worth it, Golly disagrees, and tells Harriet that she is worth it as an individual, and her being an individual will make others nervous (and keep making them feel as such), before finally adding that one of the blessings of life is good friends, and tells Harriet to never give up her friends without a fight.
Harriet then tries to apologize to Sport and Janie, even though they initially reject her (they later, however, get tired of being treated unfairly in Marion's bully group and quit). She also shares her opinion with Miss Elson and the class that the appointment of the editor of the sixth grade paper was done unfairly, who agrees, and opens it up for a vote. Harriet is voted in as editor, by her classmates, replacing Marion. Through one article, she apologizes to everyone, including Marion, and all (except Marion) accept her apology. All is well. On opening night of the 6th grade pageant, Janie, Sport, and Harriet light off a stink bomb as revenge on Marion and dance to James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" until the end of the film.
- Michelle Trachtenberg as Harriet M. Welsch
- Rosie O'Donnell as Katherine "Ole Golly"
- Gregory Smith as Simon "Sport" Rocque
- Vanessa Lee Chester as Janie Gibbs
- J. Smith-Cameron as Violetta Welsch
- Robert Joy as Ben Welsch
- Eartha Kitt as Agatha K. Plummer
- Charlotte Sullivan as Marion Hawthorne
- Teisha Kim as Rachel Hennessy
- Cecilley Carroll as Beth Ellen Hansen
- Dov Tiefenbach as Boy with Purple Socks
- Nina Shock as Carrie Andrews
- Connor Devitt as Pinky Whitehead
- Alisha Morrison as Laura Peters
- Nancy Beatty as Miss Elson
- James Gilfillan as Archie Simmons
- Gerry Quigley as Sport's Dad
- Jackie Richardson as Janie's Mother
- Roger Clown as Dr. Wagner
The screenplay was adapted from Louise Fitzhugh's 1964 novel of the same name. Director Bronwen Hughes commented on the adaptation: "Certain things about the ’60s story, especially the relationship between kids and their parents, had to be adjusted to make sense because you don’t have that same kind of formality that you had in the book in the ’60s between parents and kids. So those things needed to be made more natural for the 1990s kids audience. But it was very important to me that the things that really affected Harriet in the book would be the things that really affected Harriet in the movie." The result mixed elements from various decades, but Hughes aspired to create a "timeless" film that featured little technology.
Harriet the Spy was filmed in Toronto during the fall of 1994 and winter of 1995. Director Bronwen Hughes recalled: "It was Paramount’s financial decision to make Toronto look like New York, although to tell you the truth, nothing looks like a row of brownstones and stoops like New York, so we just started choosing great locations to create a visual experience."
Michelle Trachtenberg recalled the shoot beginning on October 11, 1994, her tenth birthday. She and co-star Vanessa Lee Chester had known each other prior, having filmed a commercial together in New York City when they were five years old. Charlotte Sullivan recalled of the shoot: "When [Bronwen] would direct us, if we were walking she’s like, “Okay you’ll go bop-bop this way then bop-bop this way,” she was always dancing. I don't remember her not dancing on set. And music was always playing. It was very cool and in terms of performance art she was pretty ahead of her time. It was a great way also to direct children. It was a way to keep things alive."
The film was released in U.S. theaters on July 10, 1996, and the film grossed $6,601,651 on its opening weekend, averaging about $3,615 per each of the 1,826 screens it was shown on. The film went on to gross a total of $26,570,048 by November 10, 1996, and is considered a modest box office success, earning back more than double its $12 million budget.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 48% based on reviews from 31 critics. The site's consensus: "Harriet the Spy is a rapid-fire mystery movie that doesn't have much to offer beyond the two decent lead performances." Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave it a grade B+.
Rita Kempley of The Washington Post was critical of the film, deeming it a "tedious" adaptation of the source novel, adding: "Harriet the Spy isn't really a story, but a dark slice of this ruminative child's inner life. Like the more clearly comic Welcome to the Dollhouse, this film finds more wrong than wonder in these terrible, tenderfoot years." Roger Ebert praised the performance of Trachtenberg, but conceded: "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." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly, a self-proclaimed fan of the novel, wrote that the film "has its sticky, Afterschool Special side (the ending is way too pat), but at its best it’s like a Welcome to the Dollhouse for preadolescents. What Fitzhugh’s book had, and what the movie gets, is the glee and neurotic terror of a kid lurching into adult consciousness, learning just how dangerous that notebook we all carry around in our heads really is."
John Anderson of the Los Angeles Times also commented on the film's darker elements, writing that it is "fun, yes, but [it] isn't afraid to expose the nastiness of youth or the offhanded cruelty of one girl's ego. This is not a happy little movie about the sweetness of childhood." Barbara Shulgasser of The San Francisco Examiner dismissed the film, describing the protagonist as "the kind of kid I'm not looking forward to meeting as a grownup... While the well-loved novel was apparently about the admirable battle a kid must wage in order to become an artist in the face of peer disapproval, the movie seems to be about a mean-spirited tyke who has no scruples. If that kind of person wants to become an artist, it's OK by me, but I don't have to root for her."
Harriet the Spy was released on VHS by Paramount Home Video on February 25, 1997. The cassette also contained two Rugrats music videos, and customers were able to receive $5 rebate if they bought the movie in an orange clamshell case plus two eligible Rugrats videos.
The film was later released on DVD on May 27, 2003.
|1997||Kids' Choice Awards||Favorite Movie Actress||Rosie O'Donnell||Won|||
|Young Artist Awards||Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress||Michelle Trachtenberg||Won|||
|Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actress||Vanessa Lee Chester||Won|
|Best Family Feature – Drama||Harriet the Spy||Nominated|
|Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actor||Gregory Smith||Nominated|
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