There is an unexpected emotional punch that hits you in the latter act of Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective. What would be a considered a triumphant moment in any other film is viewed with sobering eyes here. Any sense of joy is buried under the unbearable weight of sadness that the film’s protagonist, Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody), has carried with him for decades. Of course, it is easy to miss the warning signs that are hiding beneath the mixture of bravado and self-pity he wears like a daily uniform.
Once a celebrated kid detective, who by the age of 13 had his own office and secretary, Abe made a name for himself solving mysteries around his town. While the majority of the over 200 cases he solved were petty crimes, he still took his job as a detective seriously. However, the bright light of fame began to quickly dim when a local missing person’s case hit too close to home. Festering like a rash he could not hide, his inability to solve the case was noticed by the community. It served as proof in their eyes that he was indeed just a kid and not equipped to deal with adult matters.
Now 31, and without having a meaningful case to solve in years, Abe finds himself in a rut. Still clinging to the glory days of his youth, and solving trivial matters for free, he spends most of his time drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Fortunately, a chance to break the slump arises when a local teenager, Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), hires him to find out who murdered her boyfriend.
While the murder investigation provides Abe with the chance to prove that he is an adult, The Kid Detective spends much of the first half reveling in his childhood. The opening of the film gleeful plays like a kid’s film as young Abe exerts his superior intellect when solving cases. Even as the film transitions to Abe the adult, Morgan keeps the light comedic vibe as one watches the former prodigy woefully trying to employ his old tactics.
The fascinating thing is, by focusing on the tricks of the trade Abe utilizes, Morgan’s film subtly forces one to look at Abe in a different light. Just as Jake Kasdan’s Zero Effect deconstructed the quirky detective methods of Bill Pullman’s Daryl Zero to provide a gateway into the character’s soul, Morgan keeps one looking left while slowly peeling away the complexities of Abe on the right. As the film shifts its tone from childlike innocence to something far more psychologically disturbing, Abe’s sense of self-discovery really resonates.
As Abe’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of the world, and he is forced to come to terms with how he views himself compared to how others see him, one begins to understand the guilt and insecurities that consume him. Anchored by Adam Brody’s brilliant turn as Abe, Morgan constructs a film that defies convention. Using humour to ease one into a complex set of emotions, The Kid Detective is one of the year’s hidden gems.