The Kid Detective has done the best job, in recent memory, explaining why a mystery’s leading sleuth is such a sad sack. The enigmatic and eccentric personality has become such a cliché in the genre, that the audience just expects and accepts the detective to be grizzled, or unhappy, or an unpredictable hot head. In The Kid Detective, Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) carries those traits, but writer/director Evan Morgan provides compelling motivation which fuels Brody’s top-form performance.
As much as The Kid Detective is about a big crime happening in the small town of Willowbrook that Abe is determined to solve, Morgan’s film is a study on childhood fame and how the public, unfortunately, determines the fate of the gifted individual. Younger Abe (played with marvellous charisma by Jesse Noah Gruman) was a local hero, and praised for his whip-sharp abilities to solve mysteries ranging from petty theft to bigger collaborations with police officers. But when the community depended on Abe to piece together the whereabouts of a missing child and the young sleuth came up empty-handed, he faded into irrelevancy and never shook his shameful stupor. Abe still holds a presence around the neighbourhood, but only for cases that earned him high fives and pats-on-the-back as a child. Now, as an uninspired grown-up schlub, his assistance is called upon when a teenager is murdered and the teen’s girlfriend Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) wants to find out who did it.
The Kid Detective reminded me of the best qualities in Rian Johnson’s whodunits, Brick and Knives Out; most notably the way Evan Morgan is able to establish his interestingly quaint characters, and carve out every nook-and-cranny of Willowbrook’s communities. Every piece plays a key role to expanding on this contained, small town society.
The film’s screenplay is smart and very funny, and stays faithful to its noir roots without biting off the success of other influences (including the references I made to Johnson’s work). In his previous work, Morgan wore multiple hats making Matt Johnson’s clever indie The Dirties which, again, is experience used for reference when making this witty whodunit. The Dirties is a film that pays homage to various influences without ripping them off. The Kid Detective is very much aware of the type of music its playing, but it’s careful to not repeat the same notes we’ve heard before. To take this metaphor literally, Jay McCarrol (another collaborator of Matt Johnson’s) contributed original music for The Kid Detective, and he’s exactly on the same page as his director.
The Kid Detective works splendidly on the surface as a comedy that’s two steps ahead of the punchline, and a mystery that grows more disturbing with each layer unravelled. But, it also acts as a compelling voice for those who struggle to figure out of they’re hungry for the limelight or exhausted by it.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie