Pssst: a 'Little Secret' worth telling to families

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This summer is stuffed with PG-13 movies. That would be a relief from the usual glut of R-rated films if so many of the PG-13 items wouldn't have gotten an R themselves not long ago – and might today, if they weren't released by powerful Hollywood studios good at cozying up to the ratings board.

In this atmosphere, it's nice to have more G and PG pictures also arriving than in previous years. "Little Secrets" is a genuine PG, gentle and wholesome almost all the way through. It's not a great movie, but it should attract family audiences.

The heroine is Emily, an enterprising preteen who enjoys keeping busy. One of her activities is a Secret Keeper booth in her yard, where she draws long lines of neighborhood kids eager to confide some secret they have – for a small fee – safe in the knowledge that she won't tell a soul.

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She's also a violinist who loves classical music. Her goal is to join the junior division of the local symphony, and her teacher assures her she has enough talent, if only she works hard enough. That's no problem for this disciplined youngster.

Ironically, though, Emily has a secret herself – she's an adopted child.

Her parents have assumed she'll tell other people about this on her own schedule, but she's kept it bottled up because of deep-down insecurities she can't shake.

Another complication is looming for her, too: newfound affection for two brothers who've moved into the neighborhood, one of whom seems to be stealing her heart. Will this distract Emily from practicing her scales and arpeggios? And will her mother's unexpected middle-aged pregnancy increase her anxieties about her place in the family?

"Little Secrets" would be more believable if it weren't quite so trim and tidy. It has a sitcommy look, etching all its incidents and characters in well-scrubbed images as carefully manicured as the lawns in Emily's neat suburban neighborhood.

But this isn't the kind of movie you go to for hard-edged realism, and if a touch of summertime sweetness is what you're after, you'll have an enjoyable time.

Credit goes to director Blair Treu, a graduate of the Disney studio, and to the energetic cast, especially Evan Rachel Wood as Emily and Vivica A. Fox as her music teacher.

This picture is a secret family-oriented viewers should spread around.

• Rated PG; contains mild violence and references to drinking.

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