Thursday, April 29, 2021

The beat goes on: The Kid Detective

Writer/director Evan Morgan’s engaging feature film debut is a droll, slightly tart slice of PI whimsy. At times, 2020’s The Kid Detective seems to be taking place in a slightly existential universe not quite our own, where characters drop mordant, film noir-style one-liners without cracking a smile. At other times, matters turn real-world serious, and emotions are real-world familiar.

This delicate balancing act of tone is complemented by composer Jay McCarrol’s often mischievous score, which varies from tasty combo jazz to suspenseful atmospheric cues. The through line — the title character’s theme — is a quietly drawling melody with a 1-2-1/1-2-1-1 motif on piano, usually backed by low bass and thoughtful drums.


As an adolescent, Abe Applebaum (Jesse Noah Gruman) became a local celebrity in the cheerful little town of Willowbrook, Ontario, thanks to his facility for solving minor mysteries and wacky crimes. His successes resulted mostly from perception and an acute sense of psychology: the way people think and therefore act. Partly out of respect — and likely also out of amusement — the townsfolk even set him up in a downtown office, where good friend Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato) worked as receptionist. But then she disappeared one day. Despite Abe’s best efforts, and that of the local police, neither she — nor her body — ever was found.


Flash-forward a decade and change. Now 32 (and played by Adam Brody), Abe works out of the same office, stubbornly solving the same trivial cases — finding lost cats, and so forth — in between hangovers and raging attacks of self-pity. He has become the town joke, barely making ends meet; even his Goth receptionist (Sarah Sutherland, hilariously condescending) treats him with contempt.

Enter Caroline (Sophie NĂ©lisse), a 16-year-old orphan who brings him a real case, by asking his help in solving the brutal murder of her boyfriend, Patrick. Caroline is absolutely serious, her wide, guileless eyes radiating sincerity. To say the subsequent investigation proceeds in fits and starts would be an understatement. Although his intuition remains sound, Abe’s sloppy appearance and occasionally reckless behavior hinder more than help. None of this shakes Caroline’s faith; indeed, she even drives him from one lead to the next — Abe doesn’t have a car — and becomes a de facto partner.