Finding a Bond
Low-level espionage: Michelle Trachtenberg stars as Harriet, the girl who loves tomato sandwiches and peepholes.
Girls' mag staffers detect soulmate in Harriet the Spy
By David Templeton
Writer David Templeton has taken nearly 100 authors, musicians, other skilled thinkers out to the movies. This time he discusses Harriet the Spy with seasoned New Moon magazine staffers Mavis Gruver and Molly McKinnon.
AFTER A FEW logistical hiccups have been overcome, our conference call apparatus is now in place. At the offices of New Moon--The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, in Duluth, Minn., are editorial board member Molly McKinnon (12 years old) and former board member, currently a New Moon intern, Mavis Gruver (15). In keeping with the groundbreaking magazine's marvelous by-girls-for-girls format, with its message of practical, affirmative feminism, I have asked my daughters, Jenna (10) and Amber (9), to assist me.
Thus are we now huddled around the speaker phone, preparing to talk a little Harriet, as in Harriet the Spy--the movie.
Based on Louise Fitzhugh's 1962 novel, Harriet is an immensely likable film, full of inspired kid-centric silliness and plenty of emotional edge. Starring Michelle Trachtenberg and Rosie O'Donnell (perhaps the ultimate role model for modern girls), this is the story of a kid who knows that she will be a writer, and who prepares herself by spying on friends and neighbors, recording her trenchant findings in her journal. Encouraged by Ole Golly, her nanny (O'Donnell), Harriet weathers such storms as her parents' mystification at her "obsession with the notebook" and her friends' unhappy discovery of her too-close-to-the-bone observations.
"I thought it was going to be lame," Gruver remarks. "But I loved it! It kept itself close to the book." Gruver, whose parents are Nancy Gruver and Joe Kelly, New Moon's visionary publishers, is an avid reader with a solid track record as an editor, having honed her skills on the editorial board, made up of girls age 8 to 14. Now that she's passed the magical 15-year mark, Gruver uses her experience to guide the younger staff members.
"I liked the movie, too," McKinnon adds, her voice ringing with enthusiasm. "It's a good girls' movie. Harriet's not just doing what everybody tells her to do. She makes up her own mind."
"Ole Golly was great!" Gruver continues. "When she told Harriet, 'You can do it yourself. You don't have to depend on other people all the time,' I thought that was good. Girls need to hear that, 'cause a lot of the time they're told, 'You can't do that yourself. You need someone to help you."
"'Sit down, be quiet,'" McKinnon recites.
"Girls don't need that. They need to be told that they can succeed on their own," Gruver says.
"It's kind of like that here at New Moon," McKinnon suggests. "It's great because all the adults are saying, "What do you want to do?' instead of saying, 'Here, do this.' We make our own choices, and the adults support that."
"It's not grownups working for girls, or girls working for grownups," Gruver adds. "It's the grownups working with the girls."
Amber jumps in to relate a conversation she had with two boys in her fencing class. They had just seen Harriet the Spy, in spite of its "girls' movie" label. They loved it. "They can't wait to see it again," she adds.
"I would think boys would like it, if they gave it a try," McKinnon affirms. "Harriet is not some prim little girl. She's adventurous!"
"It's not the kind of girls' movie where boys would see it and go, 'Eeeewww!'" Gruver says. "The hard thing is for boys to get to the point where they give what are called 'girls' movies' a try. If they actually saw them, they'd like them, but they run away from anything with the word 'girl' in it, so they're missing out.
"Most movies seem to be targeted at boys, anyway," she adds. "And though boys would probably not go to a girl movie, girls would go to a boy movie because that's pretty much all there is."
So what attributes make for a good girl character?
"Girls who really stand up for themselves," McKinnon explains. "Who do their own thing. When people tell them, 'Be quiet. You have such a horrible temper,' well, they may or may not be quiet, but even so . . . " A knowing two-girl giggle rises up from the speaker, infecting my assistants on this end.
"Even so," Gruver happily finishes the thought, "the girl still has her temper."
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From the July 25-31, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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