Tribeca coverage continues with your host Nathaniel on a new feminine driven mystery
Twisted women are an easy hook for this movie nerd and Every Secret Thing's premise provides. Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) and Alice (Danielle MacDonald) are just out of juvenile prison for a gruesome crime they committed when they were all of 11. Rivals rather than friends as children, in no small part because of Alice's single alcoholic mom (Diane Lane) who pours affection on both girls, biology be damned, they impulsively kidnapped a baby girl one terrible day. Years later, the two disturbed girls are back in their hometown and the years in lock-up have obviously further scarred them. Ronnie has withdrawn into a vaguely Goth shell and Alice, who has eaten her feelings for years, still protests her innocence.
But then another baby goes missing...
Every Secret Thing is written by the gifted Nicole Holofcener (based on Laura Lippman's novel of the same name) but directing duties this time go to Amy Berg. Berg is an Oscar nominated documentarian making her first narrative feature though she's been in the news lately because of the Bryan Singer allegations and the new documentary she's making about Hollywood sex rings. Holofcener's involvement is both surprising and not. On the one hand the film is largely about interpersonal relationships between women (her specialty) but on the other it lacks the kicky personality and wit of her other films. Just about the only laughs in this sometimes monotonous drama come from the gallows. Alice, memorably if arguably overplayed by MacDonald, has an odd relationship to the truth which sometimes makes for the kind of laughter that you have to swallow half-way through from guilt (Should I be laughing at this?)
Though Every Secret Thing has enough solid actressing to keep you engaged (Lane and MacDonald are trying to push the material to the weirder place that it should live in but the film isn't brave enough to follow) it's usually no more than solid. Fanning's role is disappointingly the slimmest of the four principle women. Elizabeth Banks' straight-laced detective, who investigated the original case and is on the case again, is too one note to maintain interest. In the end Banks's work and the underlit cinematography reflect a kind of dreary punch-pulling in the acting and direction, that make the film far too sedate given its pulpy plot points. Every Secret Thing keeps blanketing the sharper edges of its actually gruesome story, just when it should be exposing you to bracing truth, like it's tucking you in drearily so you won't have nightmares. B-/C+