11-year-old Harriet is a wannabe writer who divides her time between spying on her neighbours, hanging out with her clique of misfits, and jotting down observations in a private journal. Harriet's classmates find the notebook and its insulting comments, leaving Harriet humiliated and left totally alone.
With its beguiling central heroine and satire on the social stratas within school life, this first filmic venture from kids TV channel Nickelodeon has the outward appearance of a Clueless for preteens.
Debutante director Hughes gives the visuals a vibrant, bold look and draws natural performances from her young cast. Trachtenberg is fresh, vivacious and vulnerable, managing to be smart-alecky without drifting into precociousness: her scenes with O'Donnell are particularly entertaining. Best of all, however, is Eartha Kitt who camps it up as Harriet's flamboyant neighbour. As is the norm in children's fare, the other adults - Harriet's folks, neighbours, teachers - are little more than cardboard cut-outs. Thankfully, what could easily have been mawkish claptrap turns out to be smart, good-natured and fun.
The real problem with the film is that it does not ultimately tell a story: it's at least 20 minutes too long, the time filled by irritating pop videoesque montages. But if the last reel moralising - hey, kids, be true to yourself but kind to others - rings heavy handed, it is offset by savvy, sharp humour.