Director Elise Duran’s “Can You Keep A Secret?” makes it clear from the very first moments the animated opening credits play over the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” that it’s going to be a sweet, if not satisfactory time spent in the golden-hour glow of this romantic comedy’s world. Based on Sophie Kinsella’s book, her first standalone novel after the success of her “Confessions of a Shopaholic” series, its candy-floss-lite sentiments and strong lead performances carry the picture beyond the genre’s limitations. That said, it lacks a sense of uniqueness to set it apart from other female-centric book-to-screen adaptations.
Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) isn’t living her best life. Not only is she stuck in a dead-end job as a marketing manager at a financially flailing organic edibles company, she feels trapped in a lackluster romance with doting but dorky boyfriend Connor (David Ebert). She’s also suffering from a case of low self-esteem. She’s in desperate need of a literal life shake-up, which arrives courtesy of some turbulence on a flight back to New York after a disastrous business trip to Chicago. Fearing a plane crash is imminent, Emma confesses all her anxieties and deepest, darkest secrets to the hunky startled stranger (Tyler Hoechlin) sitting next to her. However, by the time she’s finished spilling her guts, the plane has landed safely and all she’s left to suffer is a temporary case of discomfort as the two part ways. Or so she thinks.
Unbeknownst to either of them, their paths will cross again. That stranger on the plane was her company’s CEO, Jack Harper, in town to relaunch its thriving business model. Within minutes of his introduction to the office, he begins playfully ribbing Emma about her embarrassing secrets involving the white lies she tells her colleagues and the petty passive-aggressive acts toward her work nemesis. His mere presence subconsciously encourages her to begin taking the initiative with both her home and work life, coming up with innovative marketing strategies and breaking up with Connor. Of course, the spark of romance soon ignites between the two. But as Emma discloses more vulnerabilities, Jack continues to hold back on sharing his own neuroses.
Duran peppers the picture with a few kooky supporting characters, some more captivating than others. Emma’s work confidant Casey (Robert King) doesn’t get much to do, beyond awkwardly cringing while trapped in an elevator during a raunchy couple’s discussion. This scene would’ve been considerably more uproarious had he been a stranger subjected to these unwanted intimate details. Emma’s roommate, lawyer Lissy (Sunita Mani), is hiding a desire that Emma mistakes for a hot office romance. Her reveal isn’t terribly surprising, nor particularly funny, but it does give her agency, rather than Lissy relying on fulfillment from a man. Their other roommate, Gemma (Kimiko Glenn), is the far more interesting of the trio as her exhibitionist party girl is gifted most of the film’s funny lines. Her excuses to leave a scene are as hilarious and memorable as her outlandish wardrobe choices. Glenn embraces Gemma’s wacky wild side with off-the-wall verve and vigor.
Daddario, who’s been long overdue for strong material in this particular genre, is revelatory as a quirky comedic lead. She’s universally likeable as the thrift store romantic that her wardrobe of high-waisted jeans, flowery dresses and daisy hairclip represents. The way she emphatically punches the timing on her “what” line when learning that she’s overshared, along with her physicality when she’s playing up Emma’s cute, clumsy undertones, gives her performance an undeniable energy akin to a Nancy Meyers heroine. Hoechlin, despite Jack’s cypher-like qualities, oozes suave charm and sexy wit all while nodding to his cautious character’s softer side. His leading man appeal is found in the nuances and quiet resignation of the furtive Jack.
Duran and screenwriter Peter Hutchings, working from Kinsella’s source material, express quite a few heartfelt sentiments about women finding their voice without the aid of a man bestowing that sense of confidence. Emma doesn’t tap into her true potential until Jack mistakenly betrays her trust in a romantic gesture gone awry and she purges him — albeit temporarily — from her life. It’s a delightful surprise that Emma’s tightly wound supervisor Cybill (Laverne Cox) isn’t a stereotypical horrible boss, but one who bestows her employees with insightful encouragement when deserved.
Yet the material is still spotty at best. Emma’s private shames aren’t that disgraceful, nor do they discredit her enough to leave her at rock bottom. People reveal greater intimate details on social media these days than the ones she’s keeping tucked away. Its commentary on healthy relationships being a two-way street is admirable and fine for a light beach read, but it’s puddle-deep. Though enlightened audiences will hone in on it early, that couple’s conflict isn’t given air until late in the film, leaving most people far ahead of the plot. Jack’s secret eccentricities are only revealed to Emma after she’s been forced to prove her trustworthiness to him, which seems counter-intuitive to the narrative’s foundational female empowerment message.
Overall, “Can You Keep A Secret?” forges its identity as a serviceable romp for those who enjoy films based on postfeminist fiction. Though it lacks the gutting poignancy of “In Her Shoes,” it does thoughtfully mimeograph the heroine’s gumption in “The Devil Wears Prada” and the lighthearted tone of “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” while blessedly avoiding the toxic sad-sack aspects of “Something Borrowed.” It may not be perfect, but at least it makes the chasm of quality between films of its ilk seem a little less gaping.