Also today I began my Freddie Highmore Review with the Spiderwick Chronicles. No, I didn't expect it to be good, but even with minimal expectations it was kinda bad. The pacing was too slow and then incredibly, stupidly fast, the effects seemed like they were three years too old, and they seriously left some of the biggest questions of the story completely unasked, let alone unanswered. And no, this is not a case of comparing the books to the movie, because I've never read the Spiderwick Chronicles, and have no intention of doing so.
The saving grace, of course, was Mr. Highmore's excellent job playing twins. Also good was the set design of the creepy old Victorian where most of the movie takes place.
Don't ask me why I'm so drawn to this kid, okay? His screen presence made me sit through the shlockfest of August Rush, so it's clearly a subconscious crazy person thing. Regardless, he's my favorite Kid Who I Can't Talk About Liking Because Everyone Will Think It's Sexual When Actually It's Just Me Identifying With Adolescent Boys. And in Spiderwick Chronicles, he plays twins who are identical and completely different in personality.
What's nice is that they pile him up with the twin cliches but he managed to overcome them. One of them has a part in his hair and wears button downs and is clearly clean and tidy and a momma's boy, while the other one is messy, always getting into trouble, wears hoodies and is, of course, the protagonist. So while you'd think he'd just roll with it and not add anything further, he actually adds a great deal of complexity, both to the relationship of the two of them as brothers, and their points of contention as they interact with the fantastical world they've gotten themselves into.
He manages to project entirely different physical presences depending on the twin he's playing. The way they carry themselves, the way they gesture to their surroundings, everything is clearly a product of a lot of successful character investigation. And while there are things you might expect in their different voice inflections and reactions, the usual things because they clearly define each other by how the two of them are different, there's a lot there that's very thoughtful and subtle. There are many times in the movie where the two twins are interacting on screen and the sense of their concrete presence to each other, and more importantly their lifelong history with one another and all the myriad complexities of growing up with an identical twin brother legitimately shows up on the faces of both of them, in slightly different ways. And there are times when one twin echos the other, not in the words he's saying but the tone in which he's saying them, and you're subtly reminded that the other character, the one who carries himself so differently, dresses differently, reacts differently, is actually the same person.
Obviously I read too much into this, also I'm half-drugged and need to go to sleep, and also talking about a young actor's job on a kidflick fantasy movie like Spiderwick Chronicles is like talking about Jodie Foster's TOUR DE FORCE in Freaky Friday, but god dammit, I care about this stuff.
edit: I am horrified with myself that I would compare such an EXCELLENT movie like Freaky Friday to the hypersaturated unartful trying too hard-ness of Spiderwick Chronicles. Freaky Friday is, of course, one of the best movies of All Time. NO ARGUMENTS.