'Little Secrets' is wholesome family fare

Movie credits can tell you the darnedest things. Watch closely at the end of the pleasant but generic family film "Little Secrets," and you'll spot the name of crew member Mike Lookinland ("1st Asst. 'A' Camera"). Some of us know Lookinland better as youngest son Bobby on "The Brady Bunch," and it's nice to see that his behind-the-camera career is alive and well.

"Little Secrets," in fact, bears many similarities to "The Brady Bunch," so Lookinland's presence is apt — the movie's sweet-natured, squeaky clean and set in a suburban wonderland so flawlessly bland that it looks like no real person could live there.

Indeed, the film might have been better suited to an afterschool special — there's no compelling reason why this story needs the big screen. (There's a bit of flashy, caffeinated cinematography at the beginning, but it's quickly abandoned.)

Nonetheless, preteen girls (and their parents) are likely to find much to enjoy in the story of 14-year-old Emily (Evan Rachel Wood), a self-styled keeper of other children's confidences who learns that some secrets are best shared.

Wood, who seems to be Hollywood's angelic-teen-of-the-minute (she plays Al Pacino's daughter in "Simone," also opening today), plays Emily as an almost surreally poised kid. She looks like a ballerina, plays the violin like a prodigy and dispenses advice to neighborhood children like a bubble-gum Dear Abby.

Unlike many made-for-kids movies, though, "Little Secrets" is no fantasy, despite its polished surface: It finds its drama firmly in the kinds of problems real kids deal with every day. What do you do when you're afraid to tell your friends something about yourself? What if someone tells you something that you don't want to know? And if your parents have another baby, will they still love you as much?

Screenwriter Jessica Barondes, a veteran of numerous "Unicorn Club" and "Sweet Valley Twins" books, clearly knows her demographic; the movie is populated with numerous children in the 8-to-12 range, each of whom gets a moment to shine.

I'd have liked to see, for example, a little more about the kid whose secret is that she's been hiding kittens in her room. (How'd she do it? Extra-deluxe-deodorizing kitty litter?)

The story stumbles, late in the film when it suddenly encompasses both melodrama (something awful happens at the 75-minute mark, in case you want to time a bathroom break) and teen love story. "Little Secrets" works best as a simple story of childhood worries, unencumbered by the baggage of other genres.

But the movie's chipper charms, and its steadfast determination to present an alternative to overly merchandised multiplex fare (there's nary a pop song or product placement here), ultimately win out.

The Bradys would approve — and might even learn something.

Moira Macdonald: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

"Little Secrets"

With Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano, David Gallagher, Vivica A. Fox, Jan Beroberg Felt, Rick Macy. Directed by Blair Treu, from a screenplay by Jessica Barondes. 107 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements. Several theaters.