For the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2020, I decided to check out The Kid Detective. Intrigued by seeing Adam Brody (Shazam!) in a new role, I went in expecting a comedy and was pleasantly surprised when it turned into a complex mystery drama.
Written and directed by Evan Morgan (The Dirties), The Kid Detective starts with a teenage girl getting lured to a car by an unseen person. The film follows young Abe Applebaum (Jesse Noah Gruman, The Umbrella Academy), Willowbrook’s infamous kid detective. Solving most of the town’s mysteries, Abe gets quite the reputation for being the smartest kid around. The locals even pitch in to get him an official office for his detective work, and he hires Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Little Lights) as his secretary, paying her in candy and soda. When Gracie goes missing, as witnessed in the opening scene, he makes it his mission to find her, but is unsuccessful.
We fast forward to the present day, the heaviness of not finding Gracie looms over Brody’s adult Abe, both personally and professionally. His parents are perpetually disappointed in his life choices, never wasting a moment to make it known verbally and non-verbally. Once intrigued and proud of him for being a child that went after what he wanted, as an adult, he is labeled misguided, often told to give up on his futile dreams. Due to the success of solving 200 cases in Willowbrook, he keeps the office space, gets a new assistant, and even acquires new cases.
One day, Caroline (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) comes to Abe’s office wanting his help to solve the mystery of her boyfriend’s heinous murder. Finally allowed the opportunity to solve a “real case,” Abe gets more than he could’ve ever imagined. Unbeknownst to both of them, Caroline ends up being the key to a much larger mystery at hand, that takes the film in genre-bending directions that I never knew I needed. Admittedly, when Caroline initially came onscreen, I was convinced she was Grace, as I saw so many similarities in them, but was I wrong!
The Kid Detective is funny, dark, and intriguing with every twist and turn. Brody brings such depth and humor to this role, showcasing his acting abilities in broad new ways. He is equal parts relatable, hilarious, infuriating, and captivating as Abe. Brody navigates the layers and fine lines of this role with such ease, while still delicately addressing adult topics, such as mental health. It’s through this case with Caroline that Abe finds a missing part of himself. Not only does he find what he’s been searching for over the past decade or so, but he also gains a renewed sense of purpose.
By the end of The Kid Detective, I felt empathetic for both Abe and Caroline, whose individual lives and unlikely friendship endured so much and seemingly saw little to nothing positively returned. But even amid those “victories,” Abe is never quite sure how to emotionally manage what was next. That’s the appeal of The Kid Detective, Abe’s character is navigating life the best he can, just like all of us. When he gets everything he’s been working towards from a professional standpoint, it doesn’t heal the places where is he is personally broken.
So many of us, particularly now, are trying to navigate normalcy in tragedy. At the core, that onscreen transparency is the heart of Abe’s journey, and why you’re so enthralled with him. In true millennial fashion, this brilliant child who was told he could do anything becomes a disheveled, lost, and unfocused adult just trying to find his place in society. For me, it was the very last scene that has stuck with me days after watching. We may not know what the future holds, but all we can do is show up and try to be the versions of ourselves. What Abe shows us in those final moments is to never give up on our dreams. And in the midst of that if we need to fall apart to come back together, well that’s more than okay too!