Starring Don McKellar, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Rendall, Dave Foley, Kristin Adams, Brendan Fehr, Michael Murphy, Peter Paige, Alan Thicke, Gil Bellows, Noam Jenkins, Toby Proctor and Eric Stoltz.
Screenplay by Don McKellar and Michael Goldbach.
Directed by Don McKellar.
Distributed by Sundance Channel Home Entertainment. 99 minutes. Rated R.
There are few things in the world less stable than being a child star in Hollywood. Once in a blue moon one will put together a serious adult career — Jodie Foster, Elijah Wood and Helen Hunt come immediately to mind — but much more often the mixture of adulation and obscene amounts of money (which is usually misused by the parents before the star ever gets their hands on it) can do weird things to a child. It is, understandably, hard for a person to grasp that their life’s peak comes before they hit pubescence. This leads to excesses and misbehavior where they are much more likely to be fodder for an E! True Hollywood Story than ever have any kind of serious, long-lasting career.
Taylor Brandon Burns is the all-too-cute sit-com kid of a stupid family show called Family Problems (fake clips of which features a good-natured Alan Thicke parodying himself as the dense-but-loving father). Taylor is at a dangerous crossroads in his career — as one of his agents points out any day now his voice could crack and he may never work again. Therefore they cash in quickly, sending him up to Toronto to star in a dumb cheap action epic called First Son, in which he plays the son of the President of the US who must save his father from terrorists. The father is played by an aging and slightly dim former star played by Michael Murphy, but the stupid script and the old ham playing the character make it a little hard to take seriously. (“He’s supposed to be the President of the United States,” says a producer played by Dave Foley. “One idiot and a blowjob ago that meant something…”)
Taylor is an interesting case — on one hand he is a complete spoiled brat, on another hand he does seem to be soulful, trying to find himself. He is floundering in a world that he just isn’t ready for — the sycophants, the girls, the alcohol and drugs; as a male he is intrigued by them, but as a twelve year-old boy he really doesn’t understand them. This is most poignantly exhibited in the relationship Taylor has with a cute but gold-digging “actress/model” (Kristin Adams), in which Taylor’s immaturity comes to the fore as he cannot understand the ramifications and limitations of their relationship. He wants to start a family, she wants to get a TV role.
While there is something rather disturbing about this supposed relationship between Taylor and the model, the sexual double standard allows it to pass without much notice in this story and this world. One character vaguely chides the actress that he’s only a boy, but that seems to be the only person who finds it the least bit odd. Because he’s a boy, its just assumed he’s just getting an “education.” If this were played the other way around, with a twentyish male model having sexual contact with a twelve year-old actress, all hell would break out, and rightfully so.
Taylor’s stage mother Suzanne is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who, ironically was something of a child actress herself, though her first real recognition did not come until late in her teen years). She dismissively insists that she is not like the normal clingy stage mothers and in many ways she is right — she gives her son an incredible amount of leeway to do his thing. In fact, she specifically avoids many of her responsibilities as the parent of a minor in a movie. She isn’t there to supervise him on set even though legally he must have a guardian with him at all times. She also gives her latest, new boyfriend power of guardianship for him just so that she can shop for a piano for a house which they will not live in for more than a few weeks. As we learn as the story goes on in one way, she is the prototypical stage mother. Taylor is her meal ticket and she is going to milk every penny she can get out of him.
Representing sanity, or at least as close as sanity comes to this world, is Rick (played by co-writer and director Don McKellar), an arty and unemployed wannabe director in the middle of an ugly divorce who is hired as Taylor’s personal chauffeur. He quickly becomes Suzanne’s fling and Taylor’s confidant and coach on meeting women. Rick tries to believe in them, be there for their every need and teach them valuable life lessons, yet he is easily and readily used by each of them. However, when push comes to shove, even the supposedly pure and principled Rick sort of sells out to the Hollywood system for his own personal gain and career.
For all of its quality of story and filmmaking, and despite its intriguing concept and its shocking birds-eye view of a world we don’t often get to see; in the end, Child Starhas a bit of a pat, obvious lesson to impart. Of course a twelve year-old is too young to be in this world without getting warped. And of course once he’s a little older and not so cute he is likely to be spit out of the Hollywood system. Both are valid points and both are made powerfully here. Still, show me anyone who is not immersed in that culture who would have ever said otherwise. (9/05)
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 8, 2005.